National Institute of Mental Health

Angoda, Sri Lanka

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The Nation - October 10, 2015

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Improve dignity in mental health
World Mental Health Day was observed on October 10

Patient who had been chained for many years in India before receiving treatment at SCARF India |

We think we are highly civilized and that we respect others. We don’t let down others’ self-esteem, but what about the dignity and self-esteem of patients with mental illnesses? Are we giving respect and dignity for the people who deserve it the most?

Many people with mental health problems are challenged in two ways. On one hand, they fight with the symptoms and adversities that result from the illness. On the other, they are discriminated by the stereotypes and prejudice that in a consequence of misconceptions about mental disorders. As an end result, people with mental illness are taken away from the opportunities for a quality life. They are deprived of self esteem, good jobs, safe housing, satisfactory health care and association with a diverse group of people. There is no age limit, social class or level of education when they are facing discrimination.

The collision of stigma is twin; self-stigma is the prejudice which people with mental illness turn against them. If you are an observer you may notice that most of the patients with mental illness do not willingly disclose their status. They do not even like to sit in a psychiatrist channeling room, when they come to seek treatment. Most patients sit in front of some other doctor’s channeling room and when their number is called, quickly go in to the psychiatrist’s room. Research suggests self-stigma and fear of rejection by others lead to many persons not pursuing life opportunities for themselves.

Public stigma is the reaction that the general population has to people with mental illness. People tend to say ‘all persons with mental illness are violent!’ and create negative emotional reactions as a result of the view, ‘They all scare me!’

mental health (3)Fear of general public leads to avoidance; for instance, employers do not want persons with mental illness nearby so they do not hire them, patients with psychiatric illnesses can’t get married and ordinary children are mostly not allowed to mingle with mentally-ill children.

Stigmas about mental illness seem to be widely endorsed by the general public in Sri Lanka. They have stigmatizing attitudes about mental illness. Moreover, stigmatizing views about mental illness are not limited to uninformed members of the general public; even well-trained professionals from most mental health disciplines subscribe to stereotypes about mental illness.

There are some misconceptions about mental illness and corresponding stigmatizing attitudes mostly developed through media, especially from films and print. They have portrayed that people with mental illness are homicidal maniacs who need to be feared, they have childlike perceptions of the world that should be marveled and need to be taken care of (benevolence) or they are responsible for their illness because they have weak character which is clearly not true. Persons with severe mental illness are also depicted as irresponsible and that life decisions should be made by others.

Although stigmatizing attitudes are not limited to mental illness, the public seems to disapprove persons with psychiatric disabilities significantly more than persons with related conditions such as physical illness.

Change strategies for public stigma need to be taken. There is a need to educate people about mental illness and apply them.

Groups protest on erroneous and hostile representations of mental illness as a method to confront the stigmas they represent. These efforts send two messages. To the media: STOP reporting inaccurate representations of mental illness. To the public: STOP believing negative views about mental illness. Education provides information so that the public can make more informed decisions about mental illness.

We think people are aware of mental health issues and illnesses yet how correct are we?  The theme for this year’s World Mental Health Day observed on October10, is ‘Dignity in mental health’.  People suffer and live with mental illness and it is not because of their fault or weakness, curse on them by someone else or due to past karma but because they are simply human beings just as the rest of the people who suffer from any other physical illness. Just because you can’t see a bandage doesn’t mean they deserve any less care and kindness.  As a human being it is your responsibility to treat people with mental health problems with dignity and respect because they deserve to be receive the same respect and kindness as you would want in life.

The writer practices as a counselor at Psychology Life Center at Kohuwala

Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights affirms that
“All human beings are born equal in dignity and in rights.”
The Preamble of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities states that
“… discrimination against any person on the basis of disability is a violation of the inherent dignity and worth of the human person.” -World Health Organization


Fifteen-year old Jamil, who suffers from mental illness, sits in his room shackled to the wall  |
Fifteen-year old Jamil, who suffers from mental illness, sits in his room shackled to the wall |


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