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Mental health stigma

Doctors and other mental health professionals are just as likely as anyone else in the population to attach stigma to mental health patients, a new study shows.The study, by the Mental Health Council of Australia (MHCA), found that the levels of stigma experienced by mental health consumers seeking treatment from mental health and other health professionals are similar to levels of stigma reported in the general population.

16 Jan 2012

Doctors and other mental health professionals are just as likely as anyone else in the population to attach stigma to mental health patients, a new study shows.

The study, by the Mental Health Council of Australia (MHCA), found that the levels of stigma experienced by mental health consumers seeking treatment from mental health and other health professionals are similar to levels of stigma reported in the general population.

The report, Consumer and Carer Experiences of Stigma from Mental Health and Other Professionals, is based on a quantitative and qualitative survey of stigma and discrimination as it is experienced by Australian mental health consumers who have sought help from health professionals, and as it is perceived by their carers.

It concludes that many mental health patients are subjected to stigmatising attitudes from various health professionals.

The study shows that, across diagnostic categories, almost 29 per cent of consumers reported that their treating health professional had shunned them. This figure rose to over 54 per cent and 57 per cent respectively for consumers with post-traumatic stress disorder and borderline personality disorder.

Over 34 per cent of consumers had been advised by their health professional to lower their expectations for accomplishment in life.

And over 44 per cent felt that health professionals treating them for a physical disorder behaved differently when they discovered their history of mental illness.

“It is unthinkable that health professionals would stigmatise Australians with a physical condition such as cancer or a heart condition,” the report said. “However, there is a widespread belief that mental health consumers encounter stigmatising attitudes from health professionals.

“Such stigma poses a substantial risk to the wellbeing of consumers with a mental illness. It is a potential barrier to vital help-seeking from health professionals. It can further exacerbate a consumer’s psychological distress and it may reduce career opportunities.”

Commenting on the report, Kathleen Griffiths, the Director of Depression and Anxiety Consumer Research unit at the Australian National University, said this level of stigma “is dangerous and unacceptable”.

Frank Quinlan, CEO of the Mental Health Council of Australia, said the MHCA called on all health professionals to examine their approach to mental illness to ensure people experiencing mental illness and their carers receive the same level of non-judgemental care and concern as people with any other health condition.

“The attitudes of health care providers can have a direct impact on the recovery and resilience of people experiencing mental illness and these results suggest we have a long way to go,” Mr Quinlan said.

The MHCA report coincided with a report from SANE Australia that found that the distress and discrimination many people with a mental illness experience because of stigma associated with their illness is just as widespread as it was five years ago.

About three quarters (73 per cent) of the 400 plus people recently surveyed by the national mental health charity said they had experienced stigma or discrimination in the last 12 months because of their mental illness. A 2006 survey found that 74 per cent of respondents said they had personal experience of stigma.

“Damaging stereotypes associated with mental illness cause enormous distress and it is really unacceptable that, by 2012, so many people still have to combat stigma and discrimination which stops them from living full and satisfying lives,” SANE Australia Executive Director Barbara Hocking said.

Ms Hocking said that, encouragingly, more than three in four (77 per cent) people described media coverage of depression in the last two years as ‘good’ or ‘fair’.

However, the majority of respondents described coverage of less common mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, during the same period, as ‘poor’.

“Many people report that the stigma they experience is as distressing as the symptoms of their illness,” Ms Hocking said.

“We must increase our efforts to educate Australians about illnesses such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder and support and encourage the media to report responsibly. We also need to hear personal stories directly from people who are affected.

“Mental illness is common. With one in five of us affected every year, reducing stigma is an important issue for everyone.”

For a copy of the Mental Health Council of Australia report, go to www.mhca.org.au. For a copy of the SANE Australia report, go to www.sane.org.

DV 


Published: 16 Jan 2012