Stigma against mental illness: a major public health concern

According to a recent report released by the World Health Organisation, in 2022 mental disorders were identified as the leading cause of disability globally. In the same way that physical disorders are a health concern which need meticulous care and treatment, so are mental disorders – so why do mental disorders not get the same sympathy that is obvious in the case of physical ones?

Would you shun a neighbour for spraining their ankle?

Could you reject a family member who has just been diagnosed with diabetes?

These questions seem nonsensical, but indeed encapsulate the illogical nature of stigma towards those with mental health issues which continues to persist in society. The dice is rolled on whether you have the genes and/ or environmental factors that lead to a physical illness in the same way that it is for mental illness.

However, individuals face stigma or in other words, social disapproval because of mental ill health. This acts as an ‘invisible barrier’ preventing access to the mental healthcare that may otherwise provide a lifeline through treatment and intervention. Individuals face difficulty even getting to the door of a mental healthcare professional due to fear of being ostracised by their community and society after admitting that they are ill. In addition, this makes it difficult to access social support which is an important contributor to health. Similarly, fear of being treated differently by people prevents many with mental health issues from speaking with their family and friends about their concerns.

Many people with depression and anxiety get no treatment at all whilst others do not seek help until they reach a crisis. This means that the vast majority of individuals suffering from illness, do so in complete silence or until they are near death. As such, the stigma surrounding mental ill health is a major public health concern given its pervasive nature and potentially devasting outcomes.

For this reason, I urge you to stand in support of those with mental health difficulties whose illness is by no means a definition of their character. In doing so we will be able to create a better world for everyone, including some of the most vulnerable people in society.