When those with mental illness experience prejudice and discrimination in the form of stigma, it can make their suffering considerably worse.
Spreading awareness and understanding through education is one of the strategies used to tackle the problem. Years of public education campaigns have helped open the conversation. Yet evidence suggests that stigma against people with mental illness remains a problem in our health-care system.
Consider what the experience is like for a young person who seeks mental-health care. They may suffer for a long time before they eventually build up the courage to ask for help. When they share this with a family member or a friend, they may be encouraged to look for help, but encounter a long waiting list for treatment. Over time, they continue to struggle and things get worse. If they end up in crisis, they might need to seek emergency care.
The doctor, nurse or mental health professional they encounter is probably struggling within a challenging system. Health-care professionals work hard with limited resources, soaking up the suffering of others until they begin to detach from their own humanity for self-protection. They might appear rushed. They might seem distant. This can result in the patient feeling dismissed or feeling judged.
As a psychiatrist, I bear witness to a broken system. Mental-health care is chronically underfunded. If a parent has one child with diabetes and one with anxiety or depression and they seek help, the child with diabetes receives world-class care. The child with mental illness is given a sheet of paper and a 12- to 18-month wait.