Written by Cath Coleman
Nurse & Nurses.co.uk Specialist Writer
Public campaigns to reduce stigma surrounding mental illness are hot topics at the moment. Many celebrities from Prince Harry to Lady Gaga have been opening up about their own struggles with mental health, and encouraging us to do the same, reducing the stigma that often accompanies mental health problems.
As a Mental Health Nurse (RMN)
, I often think about my own role in reducing stigma, and how my practice can help those who face discrimination or stereotyping on a daily basis due to their mental illness.
I have worked as an RMN for nearly 20 years, and in that time many people have asked me what I do for a living. When I tell them I am a mental health nurse, I receive a mixed reaction.
Most people are impressed and tell me they couldn’t do this job, but some appear shocked and ask me if it is safe. Many people don’t seem to have an understanding of what mental illness is, and have an image of a dangerous maniac or ‘One flew over the cuckoo’s nest’ as their reference point for mental illness.
I explain that 1 in 4 people
will have some form of mental health problem at some point in their lives, and that most people I look after are just like you and I.
Sometimes, I think I am able to educate people I meet but I know many still have their fixed ideas and will continue to stigmatise mental illness.
Campaigns to reduce stigma often appear to be focused on depression and anxiety, very common conditions that can lead to difficulty functioning on a daily basis.
However, I have not seen these campaigns talk about chronic and severe mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and bipolar affective disorder. These are conditions that lead to patients being discriminated against, disempowered, bullied and excluded from society.
I have worked with hundreds of people with chronic mental illness, and they are amazing people who often struggle through life because of their condition, with employment prospects, getting suitable housing and simply managing daily living made more difficult because of discrimination and stigma.
These issues will not go away soon, and I believe health professionals have a role to play in educating patients, family, friends and people we meet about the nature of mental illness.
This lack of understanding and fear of the unknown can be addressed, empowering those who have chronic mental illness and improving their quality of life.