Stigma Among Mental Heatlh Profession makes people with Mental Illness More Vulnerable

Many types of euthanasia law include the so-called “safeguard” that a person seeking euthanasia must see a couple of psychologists or the like, who are willing to testify that the person is of sound mind, not suffering from depression, anxiety or other illness that might impair their judgement.

These measures are a crock

A report on two surveys by the Mental Health Council of Australia recently exposed the attitudes of those in the health profession towards the people they treat, and the results are most disturbing.

Consumer and Carer Experiences of Stigma from Mental Health and Other Health Professionals says the impact of stigma is two-fold, including public and self stigma. The former is how the general population reacts to people with a mental illness; the latter refers to the prejudice, negative feelings and negative impact that discrimination has on a person with a mental illness .

Stigma impedes recovery by diminishing social status, self-esteem and social networks, and all this can lead to unemployment, isolation, delayed treatment seeking and hospitalisation. This is the very picture of what many have called a “slippery slope”, leading down and down to feelings of social isolation and exclusion for a person with a mental illness.Battling with both this and a mental illness will affect their self-esteem and level of distress, making recovery all the more difficult – and poor choices more likely, given the right circumstances.

When a health professional stigmatises a person these feelings are likely to be compounded, making treatment and recovery unlikely.  So stigma would seem to be a major factor in whether or not a mental illness might be declared “hopeless and unbearable”, or labelled something similar.

An international literature survey included in the research chillingly found many studies reporting that, although people working in the area of mental health had significant knowledge about mental illness, this did not automatically translate into better attitudes towards people with mental illness.  Health care professionals’ attitudes towards people with mental illness can influence the care provided – or withdrawn…or what may be dressed up as “care”.

The research found many people with a mental illness have experienced, seen or heard someone they care for being subjected to stigmatising attitudes and beliefs from both health professionals and others in the community. The results suggest that health professionals’ training on mental health issues may be poor, and that their views are pretty much like those of others in the community.

Specifically, over a third of those surveyed report being told to lower their expectations for accomplishments in life.

More than a quarter of respondents thought they were not afforded the same dignity and respect they observed being given to people with physical illnesses.

Asked to respond to the statement, “When talking to professional/s about my mental illness, I feel that I am an equal member of the team deciding on my treatment plan”, over a third of those surveyed disagreed. Many strongly disagreed. Given the incidence of non-concent in relation to euthanasia in Belgium and the Netherlands, this figure should ring alarm bells for legislators and consumers.

Almost a third of carers surveyed said they had seen people shunned and avoided by health professional once it was revealed those people had a mental illness. This behaviour, echoing that of the general community, could further trigger people with mental illness to take their own lives or, if laws were passed, ask for “help” to end an unbearable, intolerable situation.

Over a quarter of carers don’t believe that seeing the people they care for getting treatment for their illness made them more hopeful for that person’s future. That statement has all kinds of implications, not only for the present quality of care, but the type of options that might be suggested, and by whom, in response to hopelessness.

It would seem that unless further work is done to find out how training and professional development for mental health and other health professionals is done, and what it includes – or doesn’t – people with mental illness will remain at grave risk of shoddy treatment, even from those paid to care for them, perhaps leading to poor so-called choices.

Improving mental health professionals’ training may fix the attitudinal problem, but time, funding and real enthusiasm for the task will tell.

In the meantime, Based on this research , It would be dangerous indeed for any jurisdiction in Australia to legalise euthanasia or assisted suicide, as wide-spread stigmatic attitudes among health professionals could increase the likelihood of people being forced to make tragically wrong choices.


About Daniel

I am a man with a disability living in Canberra, Australia. I'm passionate about the lives of people with disabilities - our joys, achievements, sorrows and setbacks. I want to encourage the people who support and love us, and stand firmly against obstacles placed in our way that may even threaten our very existence.
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2 Responses to Stigma Among Mental Heatlh Profession makes people with Mental Illness More Vulnerable

  1. Joan Apthorp says:

    This is all too sadly true! There’s a lot of stigma attached to mental illness – and once a person is diagnosed with it, it’s hard for them to get physical symptoms taken seriously, as the medics are inclined to say “Oh, she/he is a psych patient, it’s all in the mind”. All of which serves to increase suffering and depression.

  2. Yes, the “two doctors sign” thing is a complete waste of time, and certainly no protection for anyone. “Clinics” can be set up with two doctors who sign as a formality. This already happens in “family planning” clinics. I envisage “end of life planning clinics” where over worked doctors sign assuming all is in order.

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