Sunday, September 07, 2008

Ignorance Breeds Ignorance

The BBC reports that in a study of 500 young people conducted by Great Ormond Street Hospital, almost half could not name a single mental health condition. Dr Jon Goldin, a consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist at Great Ormond Street, said the results were both worrying and surprising. But are they? Are the results really that much of a surprise?

I confess; before it was suggested to me that Mr Man may be suffering from Schizophrenia, which in turn led to my own research, I had no idea what Schizophrenia was. Like most people I think I thought it was a split personality – I had no idea about delusions or hallucinations. Lack of knowledge probably explains the strange reactions I have had from others once they have realised my “plight”.

Ignorance is rife at all ages. No wonder then that many of the Google searches that lead to my blog are strange questions such as: “is a schizophrenic capable of love?”

Dr Jon Goldin continues: “This ignorance is probably one of the reasons why for too long now there has been a stigma attached to living with a mental health condition.” And I couldn’t agree more. People living with mental health problems are presumed to be unpredictable, violent, aggressive; you name it – anything other than ordinary people living with an illness, and these beliefs are largely fed by various types of media. How many people ask the question: “Is a person with Multiple Sclerosis capable of love?”? Or “Are people with Cancer violent?”? How many times do we see the headline “Murderer was Dyslexic”? Never. Does this mean that people with Dyslexia don’t commit murder? Of course not, but we wouldn’t dare stigmatise these people in such a way.

It is admirable that Great Ormond Street is responding to this need of information by adding a new section to their website Children First, dealing with mental health issues; but just as with this blog, I fear that only those who have an interest in mental health issues will access that area of the site, and believe it or not, there are still some children without internet access or the privacy to read information on such a sensitive issue.

Young people are often influenced by the attitudes of their parents and teachers before they reach their teens, and prejudices can already be ingrained by then. There needs to be more education for the general public and especially for parents and those who work with young people – firstly to avoid passing on such prejudices, and secondly because mental illness often first develops in adolescence and needs to be recognised for what it is. Mr Mans illness remained undetected throughout his teens, as his depressive behaviour was dismissed as being “normal teenage” behaviour.

No, there is no surprise at the lack of knowledge about mental illness by young people. Ignorance breeds stigma and further ignorance. Only knowledge breeds understanding and acceptance.

9 comments:

cb said...

I completely agree about ignorance breeding stigma and discrimination even.. .whether it is of mental illness or other cultures.

Anonymous said...

wow, you said it straight up.

Anne said...

Agreed, completely.

I was very obsessive-compulsive as a teenager, as a symptom of depression, and I was sad and angry when as an adult my mother said 'if you ever get like that again, see someone about it' - she had obviously noticed it at the time but had not known what to do, nor addressed it with me - apart from telling me to stop it -and hadn't dissuading my siblings from laughing at my 'weird' behaviour.

Anne said...

um, that should have been 'dissuaded', sorry.

Mr Mans Wife said...

CB, I agree that ignorance breeds discrimination in all kinds of areas.

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Hehehe, I have a bit of a reputation for that Anonymous :) At least on my blog I can't get into trouble for it because I'm anonymous too! :D

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Anne, your awful experience just proves that education has to start with adults. Kids can be so cruel and laugh at anything that is different, but adults can only help children to understand if they understand it themselves. Thanks for your comment.

bpositive said...

I completely agree.

Last weekend I spent time with a large group of young people (about 240) aged 16-25 raising the profile of mental ill-health to dispel the myths and stigma surrounding it. Some beliefs were shattered and, interestingly, because there was a sense of normality to the discussion more young folk were able to open up about their own experiences. It was deeply moving and encouraging.

Caroline said...

Found your blog through Fighting Monsters and Pole to Polar - you write with a wonderful style and you are spot on with this post - knowledge is power and the stigma is part of the reason young people do not seek help sooner and their families resist seeing what is happening

Mr Ian said...

Educating kids on how MH can effect anyone - and ways to support others (or themselves) through it - is a prime opportunity to reduce stigma.

Schools should support MH First Aid training. (As they should any first-aid training)
http://www.mentalhealthfirstaid.csip.org.uk/

Mr Mans Wife said...

Bpositive, thank you for sharing your positive experience. It just shows that stigma is probably easier to reduce than people think - it just takes effort. I'm glad to see that some people (like yourself) are willing to make that effort.

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Hi Caroline, welcome to my blog and thank you for your compliments. I completely agree with your comment - if a teenager had broken their arm they wouldn't try to hide the pain would they? And a parent wouldn't try to deny that it was broken. Thank you for commenting.

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I agree with you Mr Ian. Thank you for your comment and the link.