March 25, 2021 / By thadmin2
A study in 2007 revealed that a large portion of Singaporeans possess negative attitudes towards individuals struggling with mental health issues (Chong et al., 2007). 38.3% of Singaporeans believe that people who are mentally ill are dangerous and almost half of the participants in the study felt that the public “should be better protected from people with mental health problems”. What is most concerning is that 21.5% of the respondents believed that people who develop mental health conditions only have themselves to blame. These negative perceptions associated with the prevailing societal stigma can adversely impact individuals who are struggling with mental health problems in two main ways.
Firstly, attitudes of exclusion and discrimination against individuals with mental health conditions may occur, creating barriers in their access to quality healthcare services as well as employment opportunities. In the healthcare industry, the stigma surrounding mental health issues create obstacles in individuals’ path to recovery through various factors, such as delays in help-seeking, discontinuation of treatment, and poorer quality of mental and physical healthcare provided to them (Corrigan, Druss, & Perlick, 2014). The prevailing stigma has been identified as a strong contributory factor in individuals’ reluctance to seek help for their mental illnesses, as they commonly report the shortcomings of healthcare services which fail to effectively target their difficulties and symptoms (Corrigan et al., 2014; Hamilton et al., 2016). An extensive body of research also identifies societal stigma as a significant barrier to employment of people living with mental health conditions (Henry & Lucca, 2004). These individuals may face recruitment discrimination, misattribution of behaviours, and stress surrounding disclosure of mental health issues in the workplace (Brohan et al., 2014).
Secondly, apart from external structural barriers, stigmatization also influences the way in which individuals with mental health problems perceive themselves and their illness. The labels that people assign to individuals with mental health can be damaging. For example, individuals with psychosis are often labelled as being ‘crazy’ and being exceptionally violent. This (false) label has the potential to influence the self-perceptions of these individuals, causing them to actually believe that they are crazy and in turn display actions that are congruent with people’s perception of them, eventually creating a vicious cycle (Sheff, 1974). The problem of stigma influencing the self is exceptionally concerning in Eastern cultures, whereby people with mental health problems are more prone to be attributed blame for their problem – the illness is moralized. In these cultures, individuals with mental illnesses are often perceived to be inherently flawed. The collectivistic nature of these cultures then creates a higher likelihood for individuals to be socialised into these social norms and perceptions (Papadopoulos, Foster & Cadwell, 2012), in turn heightening the potential for individuals to internalize these socially-constructed attributions as an innate personal flaw. This can thus make it difficult for these individuals to be motivated towards seeking help and recovery. The fear of being labelled may also further discourage people from seeking help for their mental health problems (Salaheddin & Mason, 2016). This is demonstrated in the aforementioned 2007 study where 48.7% of respondents agreed that they would not want others to know if they are facing a mental health problem, presumably out of the fear of being judged and discriminated against(Chong et al., 2007).
What should we do to eliminate the stigma against mental health?
Today’s society seems to treat mental health as a sort of taboo, and this holds true to a certain extent in Singapore whereby people report having difficulty talking about mental health (Chong et al., 2007). Having an open and honest discussion about mental health is important for 2 main reasons:
- It helps eliminate prejudice and break down stigma. Creating more conversations on mental health can serve as a way to educate the public. Having meaningful conversations can help one better understand what individuals facing these troubles are actually feeling. It also helps to debunk the myths on mental health problems, allowing us, as a society, to become more understanding and patient towards mental health.
- It creates a support system for those in need of help. Being able to speak freely about mental health would help encourage people facing difficulties to share their problems. This serves as a protective factor against the development of mental health problems. Also this would certainly serve to shorten treatment time and improve treatment efficacy for people who are facing mental health problems.
At an individual level, it is paramount that we understand that there is nothing wrong with seeking help. It is important to be able to recognise when the stressors we are facing in our daily lives become too much for us to handle alone. In these instances we should not be afraid to seek help from our loved ones or even professionals when needed.
Here at Thrive Psychology Clinic, we understand that mental health illness can occur to anyone at any time and the factors causing mental distress differs from person to person. We seek to develop a comprehensive understanding of the concerns faced by every individual, in order to formulate the most appropriate treatment intervention targeted at improving their mental well-being. If you would like to find out more about our range of services or seek professional advice, do contact us and we would be happy to assist you!
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Salaheddin, K. & Mason, B. (2016). Identifying barriers to mental health help-seeking among young adults in the UK: a cross-sectional survey. British Journal of General Practice 2016; 66 (651): e686-e692. https://doi.org/10.3399/bjgp16X687313
Scheff, T. (1974). The Labelling Theory of Mental Illness. American Sociological Review, 39(3), 444-452. Retrieved March 13, 2021, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/2094300