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Mental Health Stigma: The Problems that Result (Article 2 in the Stigma Series)

Carley Cooper

Problem 1: Views are Extremely Distorted

People need to know that they are not alone in their suffering, and that there is help. Most of all they need to know that they are not broken, or rejected; and they didn’t do anything wrong. Mary Decan, the Chair of Bell Canada’s Mental Health Program; said two thirds of people with mental health issues do not seek help. She continues “There was a study done that people are more comfortable talking about their personal finances or their sex lives than they are talking about mental health. Now that tells you about the stigma.”

Problem 2: Stigma becomes Self-stigma 

When a warped outlook is engrained in the mind of a sufferer as reality, it is a double edged sword. These falsehoods can actually worsen the mental health condition. Self-stigma can lead to lower self-esteem, isolation, a distorted self-image, dangerous conditions and situations; which can lead to refraining from participating in social life, employment, housing, or to death. 

An article in Esperanza magazine, called The Stigma Within, by Janice Arenofsky said “A 2009 study from Leipzig University in Germany identified internalized stigma as ‘an important mechanism decreasing the willingness to seek psychiatric help’—and of far more influence than ‘anticipated discrimination.’ Likewise, a U.S. study of college students, published in Medical Care Research and Review in May 2009, found that personal stigma (as opposed to perceived stigma) was ‘significantly’ associated with unwillingness to seek help.” Arenofsky said “Shaking off the shame and blame of self-stigma, therefore, may be the first step to recovery from depression—and to recovering a positive sense of self.”

The Depression Hurts website says that “Many people feel ashamed or afraid to seek help, others make light of their symptoms leading them to suffer in silence. It’s important to remember that depression isn’t a character defect or something that you have brought on yourself.” This stigma, that causes this kind of intense dread of treatment; has driven many patients past their limit of no return out of fear of losing their life, loved ones, health, sanity, or being judged by others. 

Problem 3: Stigma Prevents Proper Diagnosis’ 

One of the biggest issues that mental health patients face is getting a proper diagnosis. The first problem is many people, especially when it comes to Bipolar Disorder, are unaware they have it. Sufferers are seen as simply being over emotional with a tendency to over react; and as such often considered to have a weak personality. However, even for those who know that something is wrong, often years go by from one diagnosis to the next before finally coming to the correct one. 

According to a CTV News article, a study done by Dr. Martin Katzman of the START Clinic for Mood and Anxiety Disorders in Toronto, Ontario, Canada said that misdiagnosis is a surprisingly common problem. Furthermore “I don’t believe that we would accept people not being diagnosed or treated if they were suffering from diabetes or a heart disease.” 

He goes on to say “Scientists surveyed over eight hundred patients waiting in doctors waiting rooms. Among those with underlying psychological illnesses most were not properly diagnosed by their family doctors.” Shocking rates of misdiagnosis are:

• Sixty-six percent with depressive symptoms
• Eighty-six percent with Panic Disorder
• and an outrageous ninety-three percent of those with Bipolar Disorder

Katzman said “It’s almost as if because of the stigma associated with these illnesses, we accept people’s lives being damaged by their illness.” The study suggested the reason for the misdiagnosis rates is simply due to the fact that doctors may not have time. 

The study’s lead author, Dr. Monica Vermani said “Often times family physicians just listen to what patients say and try to treat the illness. They’re not asking probing questions to explore if there’s a psychological cause for the physical symptoms.” 

In the mean time, suffering continues. Sometimes patients are unable to work or manage relationships. Researchers are trying to develop a questionnaire that patients can fill out in the waiting room that will help doctors uncover psychosomatic problems. If patients could get the correct diagnosis, and result in proper treatment, they could get their lives back much sooner. 

Coming next month: Mental Health Stigma – The Solution to the Problems (Article 3 in the Stigma Series)

by Carley Cooper; Website: CarleyCooper.com; Blogs: Worship Melodies and Tin Roof Sundae. Also connect with me on Facebook and Twitter.

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