Mental health conditions cause greater stigma in families than physical problems

Mental health iconMental and physical illnesses necessarily impact upon the lives of the relatives of those afflicted by them, all the more so in families where a member has a mental illness, because they suffer more discrimination. The results are based on a study carried out in 28 countries, and Spain is one of them.

Spanish researchers took part in the analysis of the mental health surveys conducted by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in 28 countries to discover how prevalent mental conditions are in the world and what impact they have.

As Jordi Alonso from IMIM (the Hospital del Mar Medical Research Institute), explains to SINC: “The study published on embarrassment or stigma is straightforward, but it does bring some new elements to the fore, as it analyses a sizeable population in terms of care and support for patients.”

The article published in ‘Psychological Medicine’ estimates the degree to which a family member might feel embarrassed when a close relative is suffering from an alcohol, drug or mental health condition versus a general medical health condition.

The results show that both mental and physical conditions are an onus on family members. “However, what is most notable is that relatives of patients with mental health illnesses feel greater stigma than those with physical conditions,” Alonso adds.

To date, most studies have considered embarrassment internalised by the afflicted individual and stigma in society, but have not assessed these feelings in family members in a large-scale study.

Furthermore, the authors highlight that these conclusions – which take into account the context of the country – are set out as an international trend and that the stigma is “clearly” due to the family member suffering from a mental health condition.

“Therefore, we suggest that anti-stigma campaigns also include relatives within their target audience,” Alonso continues.

Rights of the mentally ill

As the WHO asserts, the mentally ill are exposed to considerable violations of their human rights all over the world. According to the largest healthcare institution, this stigma jeopardises their treatment and pushes them towards isolation.

“The mentally ill are confronted with discrimination on a daily basis in education, employment and housing,” he adds. In some countries they are even abused in various ways and prevented from voting, getting married or having children.

The WHO proposes several means of avoiding this discrimination: increasing awareness; improving human rights in mental healthcare services; empowering users of mental healthcare services and their families; replacing psychiatric institutions with community healthcare; increasing investment and adopting policies, laws and services that promote human rights.