Mental Illness: An Uncomfortable Topic
May 28th, 2013, Emilene Parry

Mental Illness: An Uncomfortable Topic

Almost three-quarters of Lab participants are aware of depression followed by two-fifths who are aware of personality disorder. Just over a third of Lab participants are unaware of anxiety disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and schizophrenia. Furthermore, only a very small proportion of Lab respondents are aware of bipolar disorder.

Most Lab participants agree that people find it uncomfortable to talk about mental illness in their country of residence with many putting this down to a lack of understanding of the topic and low levels of awareness. As a result many believe that those suffering hide their illness from people around them.

“It is perceived as such: a person with a mental illness is a crazy person. The term "crazy" carries a very negative connotation and people tend to defend their mental status and sanity to the point where they would deem "crazy" almost anything that is different from the social norms (the greater social norms)” Anon

“For the most part, I don’t think people recognize it as an actual illness. So even talking about it seems pointless, because people won’t understand it” Nana, UAE

“Because of the stigma associated with it, people don't like to expose their problems. In today's society we are very modern, but mental illnesses are like a taboo, so those who have them don’t want to be different, and those who don’t have them don’t want to hear about them” Juliette, UAE

“Because people tend to shun them, stay away or treat them with sympathy and most people don’t like being treated differently” Anon

“I think the people that do find it uncomfortable, are those who are connected to someone or multiple people who suffer from mental illnesses. The topic elicits an emotional response that they wish not to have” Anon

“Because they feel different from other people” Hayaa, UAE

“In many parts of the society people can’t yet accept the mentally challenged which makes is uncomfortable for others to talk about it” Anon

“They do not believe it to be a real illness” Mo, Bahrain

“Because people try so hard to fit in, so they hide whatever makes them different or may make others look at them in a different way” Nadine, Lebanon

“Social stigma, lack of empathy from others who often think that they can control their condition when that is not true” Anon

“People are reluctant to talk about anything which they don't understand or cannot comprehend. They lack awareness of the mental illness as well as how it affects the person who lives with a mental illness. People are not aware of the social etiquette to even explore this conversation, and that collectively gives rise to their hesitation. Naturally, people will find it hard to talk about something when the prospect of it scares them, or makes them uncomfortable. The idea associated with mental illness maybe that there is no getting better. People react to mental illness by putting themselves in shoes of people who have mental illness, and experiencing a perceived anxiety and feelings of how difficult must that be to cope with, as well as concerns for future life. Extraordinary situations take people by surprise and makes them falter. Talking about mental illness I feel generates that same element of 'I don't know anything about it, how am I going to handle this?” Anum, UAE

Most lab respondents also agree that there is social stigma and discrimination against those suffering from mental health disorders. Some comments on the discrimination faced include:

“They are not given equal rights in the workforce - not all mental illnesses make one incapable of performing duties. There is discrimination as well among peers in school/university” Anon

“In mental hospitals relatives or family do not visit them” Tin, UAE

They keep people suffering with mental illnesses hidden away from society” Anon

“When they see someone that is acting differently than normal, they tend to laugh at them without asking any information or background” Ryan Harry Evangelista, Qatar

“People with mental health problems experience many different types of stigma and general public perceive people with mental health problems very poorly” G Hegde, UAE

“I don’t know if I would use the word discrimination but there is a general human tendency of looking down on those with mental illnesses and using their problems as insults and humour” Anon

“People don't treat it as an illness. People with mental illnesses are labeled as "attention-seekers" and what not” Mo, Bahrain

“Companies refuse to hire people with mental illnesses, and they are alienated” Nadine, Lebanon

“People generally do not mingle with people who have mental illness” T.R.Vijaykumar, India

“Lack of understanding whether voluntary or involuntary towards the way their mental illness manifests itself in their daily life. Lack of initiatives to incorporate those with unique talents into workforce” Anum, UAE

Over half of all Lab participants claim to suffer from or know someone who suffers from depression. The majority agree that people do not know the symptoms of depression and most agree that depression can be treated. However, most also agree that depression is simply a state of mind and is not an illness. The majority believe that people suffering from depression could stop being depressed if they really wanted to.

Most participants agree that awareness of depression is low in their country of residence. Furthermore just over half believe that the quality of treatment available to patients with depression is bad in their country of residence and that there is a lack of insurance cover for those suffering from a mental health disorder.

Over two-fifths say that they would not know what to do if they found out someone close to them was suffering from depression.

Interestingly, half agree that depression is not socially acceptable. The majority believe that when somebody in the family suffers from depression the whole family is affected. Most also agree that they would be worried that they would say the wrong thing if they were speaking to someone who suffered from depression. On a positive note, very few state that they would avoid someone if they found out they were suffering from depression.

Most agree that people act with less sympathy towards people suffering from depression than with those suffering from a physical illness.

Almost all agree that there is the need for more public campaigns about mental health. Lab participants claim that educating the public and making mental illness a more common topic in campaigns and advertisements are ways that could help remove the stigma associated with having a mental illness.

“Even though professionals (psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, counselors...) are viewed as only good for crazy people, they must constantly raise awareness about mental illnesses in a very healthy manner. They should inform people that it is OK to know someone or to have someone in the family suffer from mental illnesses and that it is extremely important to urge them to get the help they need. Furthermore, there should be a (free-of-charge) suicide hotline in my country with very well-trained people on the receiving end of the line” Anon

“Open discussion among family and friends, and Doctors should work to dispel the mystery surrounding it” Mohamed Boudaoudi, Morocco

“More public education and knowledge for people to more understand the needs of mentally sick people” Mazen, UAE

“More education campaigns and if possible use celebrities to speak in media if they are suffering from mental illness (in the way that Catherine Zeta Jones has about her bi-polar) as this tends to make it seem more acceptable” Jay, UAE

“Make it a topic of discussion or subject in schools and college curriculum” Anon

“Increased awareness through government-sponsored programs, short and useful informational commercials on TV and the sorts” Mo, Bahrain

“Campaigns need to be made teaching the public that people with mental illness are still people just like them and that mental illness can be treated just like any disease” Nadine, Lebanon

“Awareness campaigns, especially ones that also focus on practical aspects and social etiquettes with persons with mental illnesses, or ways in which help can be extended to them in specific situations. Using tools such as workshop, debates and films to spread know-how” Anum, UAE

On a similar note, Lab participants also believe education and increasing campaigns may increase awareness about depression in their country of residence.

“Explain the symptoms to make sure that not everybody who feels a bit of sadness is called depressed. Explain the difference between strong feelings of sadness and depression. Explain the reasons, signs, and treatment processes of depression. Emphasize the importance of seeking help when one feels that they could suffering from depression” Anon

“Spread the knowledge through TV, internet, social media websites. People will start talking about it. That’s a start” Nana ,UAE

“TV, radio, & newspaper advertisements” Ryan Harry Evangelista, Qatar

“Medical insurance companies should make therapy a standard inclusion in packages” Juliette, UAE

“Increased public awareness campaigns; billboards, posters, newspaper ads, commercials on TV and radio. Regular free seminars and lectures on depression and making mental illnesses a mandatory topic in schools” Mo, Bahrain

“Parents should be frank with their kids and talk to them about these diseases so that the children do not get a bad assumption about the mental disease stuff. Then the media and my government must too take some measure to create awareness through advertisements, public meetings and stuff” Survesh, India

“NGO work, social activity, free education about depression” Abhijeet, UAE