International Germany Forum – Huge interest in the changing stigmatisation surrounding mental health

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Bildnachweis: Foto: Bundesregierung/ Sandra Steins

These are the notes I took during the forum on Mental Health at the 2017 International Germany Forum (IDF) and hopefully show how exciting the near future could be for society’s understanding and treatment of mental disease:

  • Mental health stigma affects all of society:
    • people living with/suffering from mental health illnesses, thus making it more unlikely that they seek help early.
    • Families, friends, colleagues and public life as a whole, thus making mental health a “non-issue” and stopping people understanding what they have and how (effectively) it can be treated.
    • Healthcare and medical institutions – lack of understanding of the implications of mental health on physical health and vice-versa. Prejudice and maltreatment of people with mental illnesses when they need physical help.
  • What’s behind the stigma? What has caused it and is contributing to keeping it upheld? (Mirai Chatterjee: “People just don’t know how to approach mental health”)
    • Guilt – e.g. Mentally ill people and/or their parents and family: “what have I done wrong to have caused this to happen”
    • Fear of treatment – e.g. Exorcism, painful and/or humiliating experience
    • Lack of knowledge or the “normality” of mental illnesses: is it an illness? Are you dangerous? Is it contagious? Is there a treatment? Am I a lost cause? Will I waste my doctor’s time by seeking treatment?
    • Fear of exclusion and loss of legal rights after “coming out”: will I ever be able to drop the label? No understanding of the continuum of the diagnosis and the fact that it can end!
    • Lack of access to a group: I’m on my own.
  • We need to differentiate in our approach to mental health and mental illness:
    • Different mental disorders (from schizophrenia to depression, etc.)
    • Mental disorders (treatment) and mental health (prevention)
  • We need to learn from others on how to destigmatise mental health. E.g. HIV/AIDS, homosexuality
  • Main levers for destigmatisation: 1) Talk, talk, talk (famous people and normal people – multichannel – use social media to generate broad groups of people!), 2) showcase successful treatment! The more people are seen to be successfully treated and “well”, the less taboo, 3) involve people living with mental disorders in issues (relevant for them)
  • Main action for experts and specialists: connect the dots (there’s already a wealth of things going on, but no roof, so that the effect is reduced)
  • What should we be doing NOW?
    • International action: Germany is called on to take on a leading role in merging the agendas (Agenda 2030, G20, etc.). Create a movement – bottom up and top-down. Mental health is one of the prerequisites for all people to be productive citizens and combat the tasks on the agenda 2030.
    • National action: e.g. Germany needs a National Mental Health Action Plan to connect the dots, increase access, develop technology and treatment and destigmatise.

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