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Changing Attitudes Towards People With Mental Health Issues Social Work Essay

Mental health problems are common and widely misunderstood; they are an integral part of public health and can affect all of us. The World Health Organisation (WHO) stated that: “The single most important barrier to overcome in the community is the stigma and associated discrimination towards persons suffering from mental and behavioural disorders” (WHO, 2001, p. 98). Mental health problems are still surrounded by prejudice, fear and ignorance, despite the fact that one in four adults has experienced them. Individuals who suffer from mental health problems often are discriminated against and have to deal with other people’s stigma; these concerns have led to national campaigns. In this essay I will attempt to discuss the concepts surrounding discrimination and stigma in relation to mental ill health and also discuss a current campaign, “See Me”, which is Scotland’s national campaign aimed at putting an end to the negative attitudes and behaviours affecting those who have mental health issues.

In 2002 a Scottish campaign called “See Me” was launched, and was aimed to tackle the issues surrounding mental health problems, and to put an end to the discrimination against mentally ill individuals. Financed by the Scottish government, “See Me” is co-ordinated by five mental health organizations: Highland User Group, Penumbra, and the Royal College of psychiatrics - Scottish division, the Scottish Association for Mental Health Support and in Mind.

In recent years, research has indicated a widespread social stigmatising attitude directed at individuals who suffer from mental health problems (Byrne, 1997, 2001). This has attracted increased attention amongst the general public, health professionals and the press. Stigma has been described by Goffman as “a situation of the individual who is disqualified from full social acceptance” (Goffman, 1963, p. 9). It refers to the negative attitudes and behaviour directed at individuals who suffer from mental health problems.

Stigma can be a variety of issues ranging from being ignored, to being bullied and physically abused. These stigmatizing attitudes as founded upon the belief that someone is not normal, or of lesser value, and can lead to discrimination. Discrimination stems from the lack of knowledge towards mental ill health. To “discriminate” means to apply special treatment, generally unfavourable, to an individual because of their gender, race, age, religious beliefs, or disability. Discrimination can be direct or indirect, positive or negative and in the negative from is unlawful. According to Corrigan and Miller (2003), discrimination is “a direct result of negative attitudes and behaviours towards a group of people.” In 1995, the Disability Discrimination Act ruled that discrimination of individuals based on their disability would be illegal. This applied to workplaces, schools, transport and the provision of goods or services.

Mental Health is a major focus of concern and interest in contemporary society, The world health organisation qualifies mental health as: “a state of well being in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.” NHS Scotland suggests that: positive mental health is about feeling in control, being in touch with our feelings, being able to make rational decisions and feeling good about ourselves, there are many barriers which can effect positive mental health, such as the social world, emotional resilience and structural factors, in order to achieve positive mental health we have to overcome these structural barriers and to do this we need the use of health promotion. Health promotion has been described as ‘the process of enabling people to increase control over, and to improve, their health. It moves beyond a focus on individual behaviour towards a wide range of social and environmental interventions”. The term refers to the wide variety of approaches that are applied to help improve health within people, the community and the population. Health promotion allows people the ability and resources to control and improve there overall health. “Health Promotion is concerned with making healthier choices easier choices” (Dennis et al 1982)

Discrimination of all kinds has a detrimental effect on mental health. People with mental illness say that discrimination and the stigma attached to it can in fact be more difficult to handle than the mental health problem itself. Statistics show that almost 66% of the population are in contact with an individual who has mental health problems. Discrimination can pervade every part of their daily life ranging from their personal life to the ability to maintain a basic standard of living. Penn and Wykes (2003) stated: “there is evidence of less favourable social interactions, discrimination in work opportunities and housing as well as their access to health care.” This may exclude individuals from day-to-day activities such as going shopping, going out with friends or being part of local community groups. Social exclusion can be psychologically damaging, harmful to health and can also increase risks of premature death. Statistics also show that nearly 75% of individuals who have mental health problems have been put off applying for jobs due to fear of rejection and job insecurity. Dorling (2009) said that unemployment is associated with worsening mental and can increase the levels of depressions, especially in young people. Penn et al (2003) argues this generates: “a negative worsening effect on ill health.”

The general perception of mental illness has advanced within the last three decades. However, research shows that this has not helped to reduce the levels of discrimination. Every year the Department of Health conducts a survey to find out the attitudes towards mental health. The latest statistics were published on the 8th of May 2008. Some of the key findings showed that 17% of people said that there are particular characteristics of individuals who suffer with mental ill health that distinguish them from people who do not suffer from the illness. 12% stated that they would not choose to have a neighbour who suffers from mental health problem. 7% of people agreed that the mentally ill were a burden to society. So what can we do to help?

See me Scotland was launched in 2002 with one aim ‘to eliminate stigma and discrimination’ in order to succeed in this there were set out five core aims; To challenge individual incidents of stigma and discrimination, To involve people in anti-stigma activities across Scotland at national and local levels and across sectors and communities of interest, To ensure that the voices and experiences of people with mental health problems and their carers are heard and promote a culture of learning and evaluation through all its work, so that effectiveness can be demonstrated and lessons shared. The campaign is based on a set of principles these include non-discrimination, equality, respect for diversity, reciprocity, informal care where possible, and participation. “See me” is working locally and with the media to improve people’s perceptions of mental health problems. “See Me” is also attempting to reconfigure the public’s perception, attitude and knowledge of mental health, to make sure that it is improved in the hope that it will end discrimination against the mentally ill. It will also improve the ability of people who suffer from mental health problems to challenge any discrimination they may face. It will also make sure that businesses value and include mentally ill individuals, as well as those who support them. It also looks to improve the media’s coverage of mental ill-health.

In conclusion despite research showing that knowledge about mental ill health has increased we can see that there is still a great deal of discrimination against those with mental ill health.

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