From the social worker of the Rehabilitation Unit “Thalpos Attica” Marina Nikolaou.
Stereotypes, distinctions and prejudices are the three basic concepts associated with the importance of mental health stigma which lead to unprecedented generalizations for individuals and groups. The stigma associated with mental illness is indelibly marked on the identity of the person who suffers and as a result, the patient does not feel that he has the same rights and the same human value as the rest members of society. (Goffman 1963)
It has been observed that in Greece, the effects of stigma are not limited to the person who suffers, but extend to both his family and to his surroundings. The suffering person has a loss of his social status and faces discrimination because of his mental illness. In the workplace, for example, which is one of the most important part of every individual’s life, people with mental disorders are more experienced in racism and marginalization and as a result, they encounter difficulties in their everyday lives and violations of their human rights. When an employee who faces mental health problems is marginalized and deprived of his right to work, he automatically lacks the right to offer, the fullness he feels through employment, as well as the relationships he develops with the rest of his colleagues which contribute to enhance his socialization.
Decisive seems to be the fearful role of several people who treat mentally ill individuals, not as humans in need of support who could integrate smoothly into the society, but as crazy or maniacs with extreme behaviors and actions. This view tends to be adopted by a significant percentage of the general population and even by people with a high level of education (Garske & Stewart, 1999). At this point, would be important to wonder and consider, in case the candidate we were about to recruit would suffer from mental disorders, would we give him equal opportunities as to the rest of employees and would we show him the same trust and confidence?
The daily healthy contact of people with mental disorders with the family, friends and working environment is often decisive for the mildest manifestation of the disease and even to avoiding or preventing it. Long-term unemployment, for example, or loss of work would threaten physical and mental health, triggering emotional and anxiety disorders.
To limit the stigma, it is important to be more informed about mental health and break down myths and stereotypes that have remained as established ideas. In addition, we could be more careful to the language and expressions we use about this issue. Public opinion should be sensitized towards the fight against stigma, which is considered as “second disease" because it accompanies the primary disorder. Such behaviors have lead many suffering individuals to reach a point and accuse themselves, adopt negative stereotypes attributed to them and experience more intensely the social exclusion. It is our moral duty to refute misconceptions about mental health either by individuals or by groups. We should not equate mental sufferers with their illness but treat them as equal members of the society.
Goffman, E. (1963). Stigma: notes on the management of a spoiled identity , Englewood Cliffs , NJ: Prentice- Hall
Garske, G &Stewart, J. (1999). Stigmatic and mythical thinking: barriers to vocational rehabilitation, services for persons with severe mental illness. Journal of Rehabilitation, 65 (4), 4-8