Lancet Commission issues call to urgently address stigma in mental health

It finds that social contact between people with and without lived experience of mental illness is the most effective way to reduce stigma and discrimination

October 10, 2022 10:49 pm | Updated October 11, 2022 04:58 pm IST - Chennai

Representational image

Representational image | Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

On Monday, observed as World Mental Health Day, The Lancet released a new report calling for radical action to end stigma and discrimination in mental health, indicating that 90% of people living with mental health conditions feel negatively impacted by stigma and discrimination.

Further, 80% said stigma and discrimination can be worse than the condition itself. Additionally, 90% of those surveyed felt that media could play a major role in reducing stigma.

The report was the result of the labours of the new Lancet Commission on Ending Stigma and Discrimination in Mental Health, a grouping of over 50 contributors from across the world, including people with lived experience of a mental health condition.

The commission reviewed the evidence on effective interventions to reduce stigma and called for immediate action from governments, international organisations, employers, healthcare provider and media organisations, along with active contributions from people with lived experience, to work together to eliminate mental health stigma and discrimination.

As per the commission, stigma can “cause social exclusion and disempowerment of people with mental health conditions leading to discrimination and human rights violations, including problems in accessing healthcare, challenges in securing employment, and increased likelihood of health complications leading to early death”.

Thara Rangaswamy, The Lancet commissioner and co-founder, Schizophrenia Research Foundation (SCARF), Chennai, presenting the Indian context, explained that though there is a gradual reduction of stigma in the country, it continues to be a real and present problem.

She said women with a diagnosis of severe mental disorder and their family members do face more stigma which has ramifications for marriage and employment preventing social inclusion. She also made a mention of the Indian visual media that still perpetuate mental illnesses negatively, exacerbating the impact of stigma.

The commission includes a comprehensive review of the evidence for effective stigma reduction interventions and finds that social contact between people with and without lived experience of mental illness is the most effective way to reduce stigma and discrimination.

“There is now clear evidence that we know how to effectively reduce, and ultimately eliminate, stigma and discrimination. Our commission makes eight radical, practical, and evidence-based recommendations for action,” said Professor Sir Graham Thornicroft of King’s College London, who is also the co-chair of the commission.

Putting the involvement or participation of people with mental illness at the centre of the matrix, the commission has urged governments, international organisations, schools, employers, healthcare, civil society and media to take action immediately.

For instance, it has recommended that all countries take action to decriminalise suicide, therefore reducing the stigma around suicide and leading to fewer occurrences.

Employers are to promote full access to educational opportunities, work participation and return-to-work programmes for people with mental health conditions and the school curriculum should include sessions for students to improve understanding of mental health conditions.

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