Breaking Down Stigma: Mental Health Awareness

The World Health Organization reported that in 2019, one in every eight people experienced a mental health disorder. [1] That’s around 970 million people. These numbers urge us to recognise that we cannot think of mental health as an abstract concept. Instead, these statistics show that we must understand mental health through lived experiences; the numbers represent many difficulties.Charity events for mental health, an increase in the number of celebrities disclosing diagnoses and the presence of mental health first-aiders at work have become more common. In recent months popstar Lewis Capaldi used social media to announce he would be taking a break from touring to focus on his own wellbeing. [2] In the landscape of our cultural consciousness, mental health has become more prominent.Yet widespread knowledge of mental health isn’t as ubiquitous as we might think. Though we might broach the topic more than in the past, psychological wellbeing isn’t always squarely in the public eye.How do we ensure that awareness continues to build? What steps are needed to disassemble the harmful stigma around mental health?

Stigma and mental health

In today’s landscape, we see more narratives surrounding mental health than ever. This can be comforting-a reminder that we are not alone. However, for most people, experiences with emotional distress, grief, loneliness and overwhelm remain in the private realm. The courage to seek solace, to reach out for a lifeline amidst the storm of emotions, remains a formidable challenge for most. The fear of being vulnerable and the uncertainty of finding a confidant worthy of that vulnerability acts as an imposing barrier. This apprehension can be a massive barrier to many.

Betty A. Kitchener and Anthony F. Jorm from the Centre of Mental Health Research at Australian University note, ‘ Although people often know a lot about common physical health problems, there is widespread ignorance of mental health. This ignorance adds to the stigma of mental health problems and prevents people from seeking help early and seeking the best sort of help.’ [3] There has been an increase in initiatives trying to tackle this.’

Recent campaigning around men’s mental health has become more prevalent after research revealed that men are less likely to talk about their feelings which has been linked with ‘increased psychological distress.’ [4] These studies are especially alarming when data shows that men are more likely to commit suicide than women. [5] They show the stark consequences of shame around mental health and indicate the fatal outcomes of stigma.

History of Mental Health: Unearthing the Stigma

Whilst our understanding of mental health is not perfect, there has been significant progress in our understanding of psychological well-being as time has gone on. The history of psychiatric treatment itself can offer us insight into this. After passing legislation in 1808, ‘lunatic’ asylums were responsible for ‘the large scale institutionalisation in the public sphere‘, housing and overseeing the treatment of thousands of patients. [6] Today, many consider nineteenth-century asylum inappropriate, insensitive, and even harmful institutions. Yet, these facilities acted as the main source of support for many people for around 150 years, and it was not until the 1960s that they began to close. [7]

Now, the idea of the Victorian asylum sits so uncomfortably with the modern public that it is frequently the setting for popular horror films. This indicates that the dissolving of stigma is a long and slow process – it takes time for adequate change to be made, but the shift can be stark and powerful.

Breaking down stigma: mental health awareness - Victorian asylum

Stigma in the Twenty-First Century

Today, there are clearer expectations around the language and treatment acceptable to use in professional contexts. There are regulations, laws, and diagnostic manuals that all regulate what happens in the mental health profession.

Person-centred support is now the gold standard of mental health care, and options are available for treatment in the community and residential settings. [8] However, although it does not loom as large as the image of the asylum, stigma still exists in twenty-first-century psychiatry.
It, therefore, still colours our understanding of mental health today.
Stigma was defined as a social phenomenon by Erving Goffman in 1963. [9] Goffman wrote that stigma is ‘an attribute that is deeply discrediting’ to an individual’s social identity. [10]

Stigma can take several forms. According to mental health professionals, stigma can be:

  • Personal
  • Public
  • Professional [11]

Personal Stigma

Self-stigma refers to negative thoughts about ourselves.
We might beat ourselves up about our situation and experience guilt around our thoughts and feelings. This harmful self-perception often feeds low self-esteem linked with mental health conditions, particularly in people with mood disorders. [12]

Public Stigma

‘Public stigma’ is the way society thinks about mental health.
When we think about mental health, some conditions have managed to break free from stigma more than others. Unfortunately, some conditions, such as Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and Schizophrenia, still have negative connotations attached.

Among the general public, personality disorders are typically less understood than mood disorders, for example. [13]

This is largely due to a need for more understanding of these diagnoses.

Patricia R. Owen, PhD contends that this is due to media, as ‘cinematic descriptions of schizophrenia are stereotypic and characterised by misinformation about symptoms, causes and treatment.’ [14]

Stereotypes are harmful as they breed incorrect information and can even foster fear.

These kinds of stereotypes are not only socially harmful. They can have repercussions in the medical field, as clinicians frequently misdiagnose conditions such as BPD and schizophrenia due to a lack of clarity of how they present. [15]

Professional Stigma

This leads to professional stigma, which impacts how people are perceived in the medical profession and their workplaces.

Breaking down stigma: mental health awareness - Mental health in the workplace

Improvements in Recent Years

Alongside an increase in the presence of mental health in the cultural consciousness, there has also been a rise in the number of legislative documents that directly concern psychological well-being.

Although mental well-being is not explicitly included among the six designated traits safeguarded by the Equality Act 2010, it falls within the scope of a certain category that enjoys protection. This implies that individuals diagnosed with mental health conditions are afforded legal safeguards against discriminatory practices.

Get Support Today

The societal challenge to dismantle stigma is an ongoing and dynamic process, propelling us towards attaining a more cohesive and all-encompassing community.

At UKAT’s London Clinic, we understand that breaking down the stigma around mental health needs more than just mental health awareness – we must also strive for mental health acceptance. Learning about mental health is only one step in becoming more compassionate and inclusive as a society.

Enshrined within UKAT’s London Clinic are a plethora of specialised services, meticulously curated and administered by adept medical practitioners who keenly recognise that each diagnostic label veils a distinctive narrative. Contact us today to learn more regarding the range of services we provide at our specialist London clinic.


[1] https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/mental-disorders#:~:text=In%202019%2C%201%20in%20every,the%20most%20common%20(1).
[2] https://news.sky.com/story/lewis-capaldi-to-take-break-from-touring-to-adjust-to-impact-of-tourettes-12910217
[3] https://openresearch-repository.anu.edu.au/bitstream/1885/23864/2/01_Kitchener_Mental_health_first_aid_2006.pdf
[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6142169/
[5] https://www.samaritans.org/about-samaritans/research-policy/suicide-facts-and-figures/latest-suicide-data/
[6] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3083005/
[7] https://www.rcpsych.ac.uk/docs/default-source/about-us/library-archives/archives/archives—witness-seminar-transcript—uk-psychiatric-hospitals-1960s.pdf
[8] https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/bjpsych-advances/article/abs/personcentred-care-in-psychiatry-a-clinical-and-philosophically-informed-approach/B84B07C35D01F5832499A6194E67FD1E
[9] https://ijmhs.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13033-021-00502-x
[11] https://ijmhs.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13033-021-00502-x
[12] https://academic.oup.com/her/article/19/4/357/560320
[13] https://www.researchgate.net/publication/272572893_Confronting_Myths_and_Stereotypes_About_Borderline_Personality_Disorder
[14] https://ps.psychiatryonline.org/doi/10.1176/appi.ps.201100371
[15] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2849890/
[16] https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2010/15/section/6

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