Negative attitudes and beliefs toward people living with a mental health or in recovery from a substance use disorder are common and harmful.
These negative attitudes extend to and affect family members, places of work, health care providers, policies, and the allocation of public resources.
Stigmatizing attitudes toward people with mental health conditions are widespread and commonly held. A survey of more than 1,700 adults in the United Kingdom found that the most commonly held belief was that people with mental health conditions are dangerous. The survey also found that respondents thought that some mental health conditions, such as eating disorders and substance abuse, are self-inflicted and that people with mental health conditions are hard to talk to. In the study, people held these negative beliefs regardless of their age, knowledge of mental health problems, and whether they knew someone who had a mental health problem.
More recent studies of attitudes toward individuals with a diagnosis of schizophrenia or major depression convey similar findings. In both cases, a significant proportion of members of the public considered that people with mental health conditions are unpredictable and dangerous, and respondents would be less likely to employ them.2
Some of the harmful effects of stigma can include:
- A reluctance to seek help or treatment. More than half of the adults in the U.S. who need services and treatment get the help they need. Further, the average delay between the onset of symptoms and intervention is 8 to 10 years.3
- A lack of understanding by family, friends, co-workers, and others.
- Fewer opportunities for work, school, or social activities and trouble finding housing.
- Bullying, physical violence, or harassment.
- Health insurance that doesn’t adequately cover mental health and addiction treatment services.
- Feelings of hopelessness or a belief that an unhealthy or undesirable situation can’t improve.4
Many communities across the state are starting conversations and arranging activities to reduce stigma. In addition, the state system has been engaged in reducing stigma.
To address stigma and promote a greater understanding of mental illness and substance use disorders, the RecoveryOhio Advisory Council recommends:
1. A Statewide Public Education Campaign to End Stigma
Commission a statewide campaign to address stigma against people with mental illness
and substance use disorders. Stigma and misinformation deeply embed the deadly consequences of Ohio’s public health crisis and prevent families from seeking help and professionals from providing the most current and correct information. Ohio’s campaign to end stigma should including chronic disease
education; evidence-based prevention, treatment, and harm reduction strategies; stories of recovery; and a constant reframing of mental illness and addiction from a moral collapse to chronic illness.
2. Media Outreach
Engage media to encourage the use of appropriate language that destigmatizes mental health and substance use disorders. Collaborate with the media to disseminate the science of treating mental illness and substance use disorders, while demonstrating that people do recover from these chronic brain disorders. Messages, stories, and imagery should be designed to impact a variety of audiences based on age, gender, language, and culture.
3. Professional Training Opportunities
Coordinate public and professional training opportunities that expand the understanding and awareness of adverse childhood experiences and psychological trauma, effective treatment models, and the use of medications that aid in the acute care and chronic disease management of both mental illness and addiction.
4. Involving the Citizen Workforce
Involve the citizen workforce by providing community-based trainings, such as Mental Health First Aid, Crisis Intervention Training, naloxone administration, and suicide prevention. These best practice trainings should be allowable as Continuing Education Units for professional development and when offered in an educational setting, provide academic credit.
2. Committee on the Science of Changing Behavioral Health Social Norms. “Understanding Stigma of Mental and Substance Use Disorders.” Ending Discrimination Against People with Mental and Substance Use Disorders: The Evidence for Stigma Change., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 3 Aug. 2016, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK384923/.
3. NAMI. Stigma Free. https://www.nami.org/stigmafree
4. Mayo Clinic. Mental health: Overcoming the stigma of mental illness. May 2017. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/mental-illness/in-depth/men-tal-health/art-20046477