Helpful Healing

Reducing stigma in mental health care facilities

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) As human beings, it’s easy to understand the need to be comfortable in order to open up. When it comes to mental illness, the stigma apparent in society causes discomfort and many times prevents people from seeking treatment. 

In order to provide an environment of comfort and facilitate healing interaction, the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) began an initiative called Opening Minds in order to understand the measurable effects of stigma.

"Take time to understand the effects if stigma and the reality of mental illness. "

Stigma creates a barrier for many mentally ill patients, who frequently reports that it prevents them from seeking help. Cheryl Whittleton, the program coordinator, states that they are “very pleased with the results of this evaluation. It is clear that the program is valuable and effective at reducing stigma.”

Seven hospitals and community clinics introduced the program to its emergency room workers in order for them to holistically understand the effects of stigma on those already susceptible to behavioral and mental health problems. Whittleton reported, “the feedback from [the] staff who participated in the program was very positive.”

The MHCC began Opening Minds in 2009 in response to the hardships involved with stigmatization.  The program works with sixty-five active partners in forty-five project across Canada.  The study occurred in response to its author participating in the program and realizing her own stigmatic ways.  

Whitteton notes, "“I think I’m a good nurse, but I saw in myself some of the things that were discussed in that workshop and I was ashamed. I recognized that it’s my job to advocate for patients and to be more mindful of the terms I use when treating them.”  And thus, Cheryl decided to bring the programs to facilities around her.  

Open Minds solicits aid and stories from mental health patients talking about their experience with stigma.  The advisors believe this gives ER workers firsthand knowledge of the harms and may open their eyes like it did Cheryl's.  

Findings indicated that although twenty-one percent of ER workers were previously unsure of their responsibilities to inspire hope in the mentally ill, eighty-five percent felt it to be their duty after the workshop. Further results uncovered after the workshop:

  • a twenty-two percent decrease in stigmatizing attitudes;
  • a twenty percent increase in understanding that mentally ill people seldom pose a risk to the public; and
  • a thirty-one percent increase in understanding that many mental illnesses can be cured.

Whittleman further commented, “many of [the] staff commented that the session was a powerful reminder about the important role [their] interactions with patients can play in ensuring they receive the best healthcare experience possible.”

dailyRx contributing expert LuAnn Pierce, LCSW works as a therapist and coach at the Turning Points Counseling Center. She details the effects of stigma to dailyRx, expressing their potential to be overwhelmingly severe.

“People living with mental health challenges often report the stigma and shame associated with the diagnosis to be as debilitating as the actual disorder. Stigma is due in large part to the a lack of understanding about mental illness. It is best overcome through knowledge and firsthand experience,” Pierce explains.

“We must educate ourselves to overcome preconceived notions that are not based in fact.”

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
December 13, 2011
Last Updated:
December 14, 2011