“Researchers said that such stigmatising attitudes may lead people to avoid seeing a doctor and getting diagnosed for fear of being labelled as mentally ill” (Considerable Stigma Against Mental Illness: Study, Laura Philomin).
Cognisant that stigma surrounding mental illness persists in Singapore – with nine in 10 respondents believing that those with a mental illness “could get better if they wanted to”, according to a survey by the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) (TODAY, Oct. 7), to find out how people understood and perceived mental illness – how should future awareness campaigns be designed to address these misperceptions? Persistence of the stigma is problematic: individuals might be discouraged from seeking treatment, others may perpetuate stereotypes through bullying or teasing behaviour, and ignorance on the part of family and friends (the ones often closest to the person, and most likely to suggest professional help) disables support systems to someone with a mental illness.
Researchers quoted in the news report have also acknowledged that “the stigma could hinder such individuals from seeking treatment out of fear of being associated with a disorder”.
It would also be useful to put these findings into context, with comparisons against perception surveys in the past to determine whether improvements have been observed. How effective are awareness endeavours in this regard, and how do levels of comprehension in Singapore compare with levels around the world? Which demographic (besides education and income levels) – especially by age-groups, with implications for the target audience – has the lowest levels of recognition of the disorders, and are there endeavours in place for them? What organisations and activists have been involved in this process, and what other strategies or practices can be employed?
For example, the Centre for Mental Health Education was opened at IMH in 2010. How many Singaporeans has it reached, and how productive are these programmes? There should also be an evaluation of the first National Mental Health Policy and Blueprint in 2011, and the potential to involve the Health Promotion Board.
Quite a significant sum – one million dollars – has been invested in this study by IMH, so there is also an opportunity to educate the public too. First, further details from the survey, including the profile of the respondents, the methodology and scales used, as well as the questions asked. Second, mental health literacy can be raised across the board, though advocates may make inroads more expediently if they work with students or through schools, further involving their parents in the process too. Last but not least, the role of popular culture could be examined too. Much has been made of the stereotypes perpetuated through television characters, for instance, so addressing the source of misperceptions would be helpful.