Opinion Research Stigma Reduction — 24 November 2017

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We’ve probably all heard the statistic that 1 in 4 people will experience mental health issues in their lifetime and while this is indeed a significant number, what does that mean in our everyday lives?

 To put this into perspective, at Ditch the Label we commissioned a study with Brandwatch of 12.9 million social media conversations examining attitudes to mental health and the link between mental health and bullying.

 We’ve long known about the irrefutable relationship between bullying and mental health and just how severe the impacts can be. Bullying undermines self-esteem and confidence, with those who are bullied often blaming themselves and seeing themselves as the problem, especially if unique factors about them are targeted. This can breed internalised resentment and as such, a person who experiences for example, homophobic abuse is likely to see their sexuality as the issue, rather than the wider picture of it being the homophobic attitude of the perpetrator at fault.

 Mental health is inevitably an issue that we at Ditch the Label are incredibly passionate about. Young people tell us every single day about some of the struggles they face and about the unique challenges posed by modern society and culture. Mental health is a topic that connects us all. We all have it, yet the public narrative is often negative and fear mongering in tone. We believe that mental health should be spoken about in the same way as physical health and this research, we hope, will contribute towards the existing movement that addresses mental health stigma and educates people about their own health. Especially when we consider that bullying made sufferers of mental health issues seven times more likely to talk about self-harm.The findings make for concerning reading and a timely wake up call. Bullying is cited as a catalyst for mental health symptoms with eating disorders, anxiety and body dysmorphia the most strongly associated mental health issues. 1 in 4 conversations around body dysmorphia were negative and for those with existing mental health conditions, bullying increased references of self-harm by more than 600%.

Stigma in particular is still a barrier preventing people speaking out and seeking help, with some young people saying the stigma towards mental health was worse than the mental health issue itself. Stigma can be a silent killer and it is having catastrophic effects on people’s wellbeing; it is often the reason people lie about how they are feeling, or don’t tell anyone that they’re struggling.

We need to reframe the way that mental illness and mental health is seen by society. We need to challenge attitudes, behaviours and language that judge and discriminate and use every opportunity to educate.

Perhaps unsurprising given the stoic ‘man up’ societal culture in which young boys are often raised, men are more likely to use derogatory language than women when discussing mental health. Males need to be encouraged and ‘allowed’ to be vulnerable and show their emotions, to speak up and speak out, to ask for help, if we are ever to truly address toxic masculinity and reduce the alarmingly high suicide rates in young men.

We need to be open to and ready to listen if someone shares that they have a mental health issue, keep the conversation positive; reassuring and supportive in challenging negative self-belief, and vitally; ask how we can help.

Working with Brandwatch has given us a unique opportunity to analyse the public discourse in over 12-million conversations surrounding mental health in the United Kingdom across a period of four years. We are jointly passionate about understanding the current climate and narrative of mental health and collectively will be using this research to influence our work and support services – not just internally within our own organisations, but globally.

This piece by Liam Hackett was first seen on ‘The Huffpost’ 27 October 2017.

 

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