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Reviews Elsewhere – How can we fight stigma most effectively?

Actually, this post by Ashley Peterson isn’t so much a review, as a synopsis of the thoughts of author Patrick Corrigan is his book The Stigma Effect: Unintended Consequences of Mental Health Campaigns.

I found it interesting that he shows in this book how many of the things we do to raise awareness of mental health issues, that we think are also fighting stigma, might not really be doing that. Some of them might even be making things worse, while others can be great for raising awareness, but aren’t really doing much to fight stigma. For example:

 Corrigan explains that in a 2006 study, around 40% of Americans thought people with mental illness were dangerous.  This was about the same as the figure in 1996, and double that from 1956.  Yet it would seem that there is much more education now about the reality of mental illness and public exposure to anti-stigma campaigns, so something isn’t adding up here.

Yes, something isn’t adding up, and according to Corrigan it’s that raising awareness through social media, public service announcements, and even educational campaigns aren’t actually effective. Again, to my mind, these things are great at reaching people who need to feel part of a community, but for people who already have negative impressions of mental illness, they don’t do anything. In fact, they may even embrace their own ideas even further in the face of these “lectures”. (Ashley mentions the number of parents opposed to vaccinations as an example where education just doesn’t seem to work at all.)

But, it’s not all bad news. Corrigan does identify something that does seem to be extremely effective in reducing stigma, and that is contact.

For “normal” people to have contact with people living with mental illness.  It’s most effective when the contact is with average people rather than seeing celebrities open up about their experiences with mental illness.  Contact works best with people who are believable as having a mental illness, but don’t conform closely with stereotypes.

Yes, it’s true. The thing that is most effective at battling stigma, is knowing someone just like you, who is dealing with a mental health struggle. A real, live, human being. Not someone who is nothing like me, but someone I see and is part of my daily life. That’s what works.

Ashley does end with some challenging advice about that though,

The thing with contact, though, is that it requires us within the mental illness community to speak up.  To have the greatest effect, we need to not openly speak up anonymously online, but also “come out” as mentally ill in our regular environments.  We need to make it personal.  We need to demonstrate that there are many faces of mental illness, not just the stereotyped homeless person on the street.  That’s not to say that coming out is easy, but to really make a dent in stigma a critical mass of us needs to do so. We truly can be the change we wish to see in the world.

It is true. Even as someone who uses my real name on this site, I know it’s a lot easier to write here, and let the whole internet read it, than to actually sit and talk to someone about what I went through after my childhood. I try, as much as I can, to write about my struggles with depression, even my suicide attempt, honestly. But I don’t often share that much about this site to people who I work with or people who I feel wouldn’t necessarily be supportive of it. In short, the people who probably stigmatize the most. Those are the tough ones. But, if we’re going to be effective at fighting stigma, those are the one we need tor each with our own stories.

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