All over the world mental illness and the perceptions of its sufferers are still shrouded in stigma, fear and ignorance. New research commissioned by the Priory Group in the United Kingdom reveals that a shocking 72% of adults think that there is a stigma associated with having a mental illness and describe people with a mental illness as unpredictable (79%), dangerous (50%) and scary (49%). Less than half (45%) of the adult population think that people with long-term mental illnesses are able to lead independent fulfilled lives. Most damningly, 77% of adults state that “the media does not do a good job in educating people about mental illness” and 76% say that “the media does not de-stigmatise mental illness”.This is not a European phenomenon. South Africans feel the same. Recent research - the Gamian Stigma Survey – found that South Africans suffering from mental illness felt out of place (47%) and discriminated against (45%) The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) is at the forefront of patient advocacy and education in South Africa. SADAG is South Africa’s largest mental health initiative, and does extensive work to build awareness about mental health, destigmatise mental illness and educate people across South Africa about mental wellness. “We want to educate and empower our country. When we talk about helping our patients, we don’t mean they should just ‘get better’. Our aim is to get them totally well again so that they become part of the community and take back control of their lives”, says Zane Wilson, Founder of SADAG.
The stigma surrounding mental illnesses comes from many sources. The public or community stigmatises sufferers as a result of the general population's misconceptions about mental illnesses. Many people still see sufferers of mental illnesses as ‘weird’, ‘crazy’ or ‘dangerous’. As a result, many sufferers believe that they are “weak” or “damaged” or that their illness is their fault. 44% feel ashamed of their illness and 56% of South African respondents said they were disappointed in themselves. This is because individuals assimilate social stereotypes others’ have about them and internalise other people’s negative perceptions. This internalised stigma, like public stigma, negatively affects the lives of people with mental illnesses and hinders the recovery process. It can sometimes be the most difficult kind of stigma to fight and may cause people to stop their treatment, isolate themselves from loved ones, or give up on things they want to do. 41% of South African sufferers said they don’t socialise because negative stereotypes keep them isolated.
“Patients are scared, and all-too-often scarred, by their diagnoses”, says psychiatrist Dr Korb. “Patients often feel that they are responsible for their illness in a way that other patients, say those who require orthopaedic surgery, are not. The stigma surrounding mental illness is shocking and we aim to encourage people to be more accepting of sufferers. Stigma is borne out of fear and ignorance and with education it can and must be eradicated.”
For further information contact:
SADAG 011 783 1474
Claudia Marques 011 783 1476
Janine Shamos 082 3389666