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Mental health problems are among the most common facets of ill health. They place a heavy burden on individuals, their families and friends and the community at large. World Health Organization estimates that 10% of the world’s population has some form of mental disability and 1% suffers from severe incapacitating mental disorders1. Mental health problems are treated as if our thoughts and feelings are separate from our physical bodies. This artificial distinction is reflected in our thinking and language as well as in the provision of health services.

Majority of population are still living in deprived conditions not able to receive basic health facilities yet. The conditions of mental health sufferers are worst in our country because of stigma attached and many other reasons. The inequality of public health in India is highlighted by the fact that a large number of persons suffering from Mental Disorders still not getting sufficient Medical as well as Psychosocial Rehabilitation facilities.

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This failure has resulted lack of understanding among community, the serious problem of the social stigma that the patients and their families have to face, and the most important failure is inability to develop effective linkages with the community. Definition of Mental Health Mental health is defined as a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community2. The word Stigma means.

Stigma, by definition, is a mark of disgrace or shame. Stigma has four components3: Labeling someone with a condition Stereotyping people who have that condition Creating a division — a superior “us” group and a devalued “them” group, resulting in loss of status in the community Discriminating against someone on the basis of their label Stigma the Barrier in the way of mental health Stigma create barrier for people seeking help or consultation from the mental health professional when they experience mental health disturbances.

Those who become concerned about the mental health of themselves or someone they’re close to may be reluctant to talk to others about the situation. Often people do not want to acknowledge their need for support or simply don’t know how to raise the issue with family, friends or health professionals.

This is a serious problem, since early identification and treatment is generally associated with better outcomes. Stigma is also linked to poor understanding of an issue and being unable to relate to the experiences of those who are affected. We are more likely to empathize with a person if we understand something about their circumstances and feelings. Our society has a long history of people separating themselves from those with mental illness, by social isolation and institutionalization.

This distance ensures that most members of the public do not become familiar with the real experiences of those with mental illness. Attitudes to mental illness are deeply rooted in society. The concept of mental illness is often associated with fear of the potential threat of patients with such illnesses. Box 1 shows widely held beliefs that contribute to the stigma of mental illness. Box 1: Stigmatizing beliefs about mental illness 4 People with mental illnesses are dangerous to others Mental illness due to past life sins Mental illness cannot be cured Mental illness is feigned or imaginary

Mental illness reflects a weakness of character Disorders are self inflicted Outcome is poor It is difficult to communicate with people with mental illnesses What are the effects of stigma? If you became physically ill, you would go to a doctor. Once you got better you would expect to get on with life as usual. Life, however, does not always fit back into place for people diagnosed with a mental illness. Everyone has the right to fully participate in his or her community, but individuals struggling to overcome a mental illness can find themselves facing a constant series of rejections and exclusions.

Due to stigma, the typical reaction encountered by someone with a mental illness (and his or her family members) is fear and rejection. Some have been denied adequate housing, loans, health insurance and jobs due to their history of mental illness. Due to the stigma associated with the illness, many people have found that they lose their self-esteem and have difficulty making friends. The stigma attached to mental illness is so pervasive that people who suspect that they might be mentally ill are unwilling to seek help for fear of what others may think.

Spouses may be reluctant to define their partners as mentally ill, while families may delay seeking help for their child because of their fears and shame. How do we erase stigma? We can battle stigma when we have facts. We all have times when we feel depressed, get unreasonably angry or over-excited. We even have periods when we think that everything and everybody is out to get us and that we can’t cope. For someone with a mental illness these feelings become enveloping and overwhelming. There is no particular way to develop a mental illness. For some people, it occurs due to genetic factors in their family.

Other causes may relate to environment stressors such as experiences or severe child abuse, war, torture, poverty, loss, isolation, neglect or abandonment. Mental illnesses can also occur in combination with substance abuse. Ways to reduce the stigma of mental illnessExamine our own attitudes Update our knowledge of mental illness Listen to what our patients say about mental illness and its consequences Watch out for stigmatizing language To be an advocate for those with mental illness Who can help? Mental health Professionals like: Clinical Psychologist, Psychiatrist / Psychologist

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