“Mental health is set aside as that other kind of health care we don’t want to talk about.” – Asante Haughton, one of three youth featured in the Ontario Shores produced film “Talk To Someone: You’re Not Alone.”
Queen’s University researcher Dr. Heather Stuart says the majority of anti-stigma campaigns are not evidence based and few are evaluated. In fact, her research suggests that we may even have to retrench and undo the damage some of these past campaigns have created.
That includes discussion of mental disorders as a brain disease. Her research shows that such descriptors actually increase social distance, not close it.
Speaking at the Ontario Hospital Association HealthAchieve on Monday, Stuart says protests over stigma can “backfire,” resulting in greater polarization of the issue. Stigma should be regarded as a “transgenerational problem.”
“You can’t sell social inclusion like you sell soap,” she told the packed conference room.
We’re all part of it, she says, including families and the mentally ill themselves who create a “self-stigma.” That includes self-blame.
Most mentally ill patients are more likely to be the victim of the violence than the perpetrator of it. Most evidence would suggest individuals experiencing mental illness are no more inclined towards violence than the general public.
Yet among Canadian psychiatrists, 50 per cent have reported to have been assaulted by a patient at least once. Whitby’s Ontario Shores Centre for Mental Health Sciences has experienced a rise of incidents of workplace violence in recent years. In the last three months for which we have data (May, June, July 2012), the centre has experienced 90 reported acts of physical violence.
The situation has led to an ongoing exodus from the employer. Many skilled workers choose to quit rather than continue to put their health at jeopardy. Only about a third of employees who were at the Whitby psychiatric hospital in 2006 (when it divested from the Ministry of Health) remain there today. This is an employer that used to be known for excellent retention of staff.
A 2003 paper by Queen’s University faculty Dr. Heather Stuart suggests that aggressive behaviors differ dramatically in treatment units, “indicating that mental illness is not a sufficient cause for the occurrence of violence.”