5 August 2011

Strategies to eradicate the Stigma of Seeking Mental health Care :

Are counseling services readily accepted or are they still looked down upon? I would say definitely it’s still a stigma to seek counseling services and this view has been well validated by research.      

Many people who experience psychological and interpersonal concerns never pursue treatment (Corrigan, 2004). According to some estimates, within a given year, only 11% of those experiencing a diagnosable problem seek psychological services. In addition, fewer than 2% of those who struggle with problems that do not meet diagnosable criteria seek treatment (Andrews, Issakidis, & Carter, 2001).

In my work as a School Counselor, I observed that over the years, students would come with the pretext of Career Counseling initially and would later divulge their main concern, which almost always diverted the work towards psycho, social and emotional issues.

The most often cited reason for why people do not seek counseling and other mental health services is the stigma associated with mental illness and seeking treatment (Corrigan, 2004). Stigma can decrease the likelihood that an individual will seek services even when the potential consequences of not seeking counseling (e.g., increased suffering) are severe (Sibicky & Dovidio, 1986).

A study cited in Journal of Counseling Psychology study examined the mediating effects of the self-stigma associated with seeking counseling and attitudes toward seeking counseling on the link between perceived public stigma and willingness to seek counseling for psychological and interpersonal concerns.

The study asserted that awareness of mediators, such as self-stigma, between public stigma and help seeking willingness is a key factor in designing more practical and efficient interventions to encourage people to enter counseling.

The results suggested that clinicians may need to address individuals’ concerns about the negative perceptions of themselves if they were to need psychological help (see Corrigan, 2004).

Changing society’s attitudes toward psychological help seeking remains an important step and may be the ultimate goal. However, counselors also should assist those in need by helping them learn how to manage or overcome the negative effects of internalizing stigma.

Offering information to those who are experiencing psychological symptoms but have avoided psychological help in the past may prove to be a very effective strategy .

Non threatening, public workshops based in local communities; Web based information; and public service announcements might help people identify stigma, develop specific strategies to cope with it, and be more likely to seek counseling. For example, Enright (1997) suggested teaching cognitive– behavioral strategies to individuals to help them learn how to manage stigma and discrimination (see also Holmes & River, 1998). An example of this type of approach for individuals experiencing depression can be seen online.

Some evidence also suggests that people may feel less self stigma if their symptoms are normalized and if they are given an explanation for their symptoms (Schreiber & Hartrick, 2002). People tend to view their problems with less shame and guilt when given information that suggests that their problems (a) are not their fault, (b) are reversible (Rosen, Walter, Casey, & Hocking, 2000), and (c) will improve through treatment (Mann & Himelein, 2004).

Because most of the problems that psychologists treat meet these three criteria, those in the helping professions have an important
opportunity. Public Stigma may be difficult to eradicate and may require societal level changes. By communicating with the public that mental health problems do not need to be internalized as personal incompetence or something shameful, counselors might be able to reach more of those who are suffering.

In the same light recently National Alliance of Mental Illness, New Yoyk chapter organized a walk to educate people about the misconceptions about mental health. National Alliance of Mental Illness' Wendy Brennan talks with Dr. Jon LaPook about the importance of education and treatment.

Image Credit :Leonard John Matthew

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