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Overcoming Stigma related to Anxiety

Stigma related to anxiety and other mental illnesses has been identified as a major barrier to treatment and recovery of persons with mental illnesses (1-5) Stigma. Stigma is a reason why some people don't see a psychiatrist for anxiety. It also impacts negatively on the morale of healthcare providers including psychologists and psychiatrists (6-9).


In this post we will consider the literature on the primary sources stigma in healthcare, its impacts on healthcare providers, and evidence-based steps to overcoming mental health stigma. Tips for people in Western Australia who experience anxiety and ways that they can overcome stigma related barriers in accessing health care.



DEFINING STIGMA


Stigma differentiates a person from others.


According to the World Health Organization, stigma is ‘a mark of shame, disgrace, or disapproval which results in an individual being rejected, discriminated against, and excluded from participating in several different areas of society.'


Stigma existing between two classes or groups of people may be due to perceived or actual ‘difference’ between both groups including religious belief, sexuality, gender, or mental health status.


In our experience providing providing mental health services in Western Australia, stigma is a complex and pervasive problems. Those that classify stigma break it down into three levels:


Structural: Societal expectations, institutional practices, and cultural norms that constrain the resources, wellbeing, and opportunities for groups that have been stigmatized.


Social: Negative norms in the society which predispose members of a particular social group to reject, discriminate, and fear people who are different.


Self: Negative attitudes and self-talk which could result in rejection of treatment, denial of symptoms, and isolation of oneself from potentially valuable social supports.




ABOUT ANXIETY DISORDERS


Anxiety disorders are among the most common mental health disorders in Western Australia, yet only a fraction of people who experience the symptoms access a psychologist or a psychiatrist for anxiety. Why would so many patients choose to suffer in silence when treatment is readily available? Partly it's because of the stigma attached to mental health.


Many patients find it difficult, or even ashamed to acknowledge that they have trouble with their mental health in Western Australia. The stigma attached to mental health in Western Australia is prevalent, stopping people discussing their anxiety with their GPs, families, community elders, school teachers and other supports.


ANXIETY-RELATED STIGMA


A study conducted by the National Survey of Mental Health Literacy and Stigma shows that most people believe that anxiety “indicates personal weakness.” Other common misconceptions about anxiety include:


  • The belief that anxiety is not a medical illness

  • The belief that people suffering from anxiety could get out of it in an instant if they felt like.


There is a bit of discrepancy between the actual level of stigma and perceived stigma related to anxiety in Western Australia. A survey carried out by Beyond Blue discovered that at least two in three anxious persons believe that other people see it as a form of weakness.


HOW TO OVERCOME STIGMA RELATED TO ANXIETY


A 2009 German study found that stigma against mental health disorders greatly discourages the patient’s willingness to seek treatment (10). Because of this, overcoming both self and social stigma becomes an important step to conquering anxiety.



A good way to do this is to combat myths with facts. Anxiety patients are often encouraged to “brace up” because their condition is seen as a character flaw instead of the medical condition that it is. Such people should see their GP, psychologist or psychiatrist for anxiety.

People with mental health across Western Australia should have access to evidence based anxiety management techniques.


Educating yourself about anxiety may help overcome self-destructive judgement, you can also find support groups for people who experience anxiety. Online support groups may be one way people in regional WA can join with others, form a sense of community with respect to their anxiety and shrug off a sense of loneliness in their battles.


REFERENCES


1. Abbey S, Charbonneau M, Tranulis C, Moss P, et al. Stigma and discrimination. Can J Psychiatry. 2012; 56(10):1–9.


2. Henderson C, Noblett J, Parke H, et al. Mental health-related stigma in healthcare and mental health–care settings. Lancet Psychiatry. 2014; 1(6):467–482


3. Knaak S, Ungar T, Patten S. Mental illness stigma as a quality of care problem. Lancet Psychiatry. 2015; 2(10):863–864


4.Stuart H, Arboleda-Flórez J, Santorius N. Paradigms Lost: Fighting Stigma and the Lessons Learned. New York, NY: Oxford University Press; 2012.


5. Thornicroft G, Rose D, Kassam A. Discrimination in health care against people with mental illness. Int Rev Psychiatry. 2007; 19(2):113–122


6. Ross C, Goldner E. Stigma, negative attitudes and discrimination towards mental illness within the nursing profession: a review of the literature. J Psychiatr Ment Health Nurs. 2009; 16(6):558–567.


7. Schulze B. Stigma and mental health professionals: a review of the evidence on an intricate relationship. Int Rev Psychiatry. 2007; 19(2):137–155.


8. Wallace JE. Mental health and stigma in the medical profession. Health (London). 2012; 16(1):3–8. doi:10.1177/1363459310371080.


9. Adams EF, Lee AJ, Pritchard CW, et al. What stops us from healing the healers: a survey of help-seeking behavior, stigmatization and depression within the medical profession. Int J Soc Psychiatry. 2010; 56(4):359–370


10. Angermeyer MC. From intuition- to evidence-based anti-stigma interventions. World Psychiatry. 2002; 1(1):21–22.

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