Reporting stigma experiences – views of practitioners, families and people living with mental health problems

In March, the Mental Health Research Network (MHRN) ran their Annual three day National Scientific Meeting in London. The scientific meeting is an opportunity for mental health professionals, researchers, service users and carers to get together and find out about the different research that is currently being supported by the MHRN. This year the theme was ‘Mental Health: Awareness, Priorities and Challenges’ and the meeting hosted a wide variety of talks on topics such as primary care, service user involvement, stigma and the Schizophrenia Commission: an independent commission set up by Rethink Mental Illness and coordinated by McPin Foundation researcher – Vanessa Pinfold.

Jessica Cotney attended the conference to present a research poster on the theme of mental health stigma and discrimination. The McPin Foundation is committed to understanding and reducing the stigma around mental health and our work focuses, in particular, on hearing about the experience of stigma and discrimination from people who experience it first-hand.

Our poster presented analysis of examples of discrimination given by three groups: people with mental health problems, their families and mental health professionals. A total of 2020 people responded to the online Schizophrenia Commission Survey and 1810 examples of witnessed or experienced discrimination were reported.

We used our Viewpoint survey work to develop a typology of stigma experiences: organisational decisions, abuse, social distancing, stereotyping, lack of understanding, dismissiveness, over-protectiveness, self-stigma and anticipated-stigma. The Schizophrenia Commission survey examples were assessed and coded using this typology. We also found that stigma occurred within a wide range of social relationships and that the type of stigma that is experienced varies by relationship. For example, abuse was a behaviour more commonly experienced from neighbours and strangers, whereas dismissiveness was more commonly delivered by family members.

“I have been refused housing because of the apparent severity of my illness. I have been turned down for jobs when I have disclosed mental illness – I will never know exactly why, but wonder about discrimination. I have experienced friends losing contact with me when they find out about my illness. I have had my experience of childhood sexual abuse denied by my family and put down to ‘delusions’ and to my illness rather than being listened to and believed”.

This research is useful for informing targeted anti-stigma initiatives such as Time to Change where tailored messages to different groups is required to tackle discrimination.

For more info see our poster  “They call him a mental case”: How different are family, service user and practitioner reports of witnessed or experienced mental health stigma and discrimination?