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25 January 2018

Mental health anti-stigma campaigns are failing according to new book

Despite the success of some recent mental health initiatives, mental health stigma still affects employment opportunities, housing, social relationships and self-esteem, according to a new book called Written Off: Mental Health Stigma and the Loss of Human Potential.

The author of the book, from City University of New York, says that severe mental disorders that include psychotic episodes are the most stigmatized but that mental health stigma persists even when people are not demonstrating any symptoms.

He says engaging people in treatment does not eliminate the problem of stigma and that imposing professional views about mental illness on people in a way that amplifies self-stigma leads to a chain of damaging effects.

The book, which is due to be published on 8 February 2018, shows that although many in the mental health field believe that emphasizing the biological and genetic aspects of mental illness would lead to a decrease in stigma, there is evidence to show it can have the reverse effect.

Although the author of the study acknowledges the ‘excellent work’ carried out in the UK by mental health awareness campaigns including, Time for Change, he says they do not address the issue of self-stigma among people with mental illnesses. He says campaigns targeting public stigma show no evidence of impacting anticipated and self-stigma and therefore need to incorporate peer and professional interventions. He says anti-stigma campaigns need to use culturally-informed methods to target stigma among specific cultural and social groups where stigma is most prevalent and that they should also focus on preventing the development of both public and self-stigma by targeting youth in school-based programs that use a combination of contact and education.

The research reviewed in the book also suggests that anti-stigma campaigns should use primarily “contact-based” methods and stop using broad public education emphasizing the biomedical origins of mental illness. And that interventions should emphasize stigma toward those with the most stigmatized disorders (schizophrenia and bipolar disorder) rather than just "mental health issues" more generally.

Book author Philip T. Yanos is Professor of Psychology at John Jay College, City University of New York, and editor of the journal, Stigma and Health. He is co-developer of “Narrative Enhancement and Cognitive Therapy”, a group-based treatment which addresses the effects of self-stigma among people with mental illness.

He says: “The need to combat mental health stigma is a social justice issue. The experiences that we call “mental illness” can affect any of us at any time, as they can any of our friends, family members, work colleagues, or neighbours. My research shows that although progress has been made in combatting mental health stigma, we still have a long way to go as a society in order to change the negative attitudes and behaviours towards mental illness. My new book points a way to how it could be done.” 

Written Off: Mental Health Stigma and the Loss of Human Potential by Philip T. Yanos will be published by Cambridge University Press on 8 February 2018, price £19.99.


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