Thursday, September 24, 2015

Mental Illness Myths and the Media

media mental illness myth stigma
Media portrayals of mental illness propagate prevailing myths and increase associated stigma.

Media and Stigma

Mass media – TV, cinema and newspaper – are the primary source of mental health information for the general public. The mentally ill are usually shown in poor light; and images of unkempt, violent and dangerous men predominate. This greatly affects the public’s view of the mentally ill, causing them to fear, avoid or discriminate against people with mental illness. This is even true for TV programs and stories for children. From an early age mental illness is seen as less desirable than other illnesses.

Negative images such as these affect those with mental illness, damaging their confidence and self-esteem. It makes them more isolated and withdrawn and they are more likely to stay away from therapy. In one study, as many as 50% of patients reported that a negative media portrayal had a negative impact on their illness, with 34% saying that it directly led to an increase in depression and anxiety.

Government policies are also affected by prejudiced media  portrayals of mental illness. Since people with mental illness are seen as anti-social, prone to violence and a potential danger to society, government policies tend to restrict and isolate instead of being more broad-based.

5 Media Myths on Mental Illness

Myth 1 – People with mental illness are violent and unstable
Almost two-thirds of all stories about the mentally ill in both the news and entertainment media focus on violence. While it can happen, most violent crimes are in fact committed by people without mental illness. But a crime committed by a person with mental illness is blown out of proportion by the media instead of being seen as something rare and out of the ordinary. Studies in fact indicate that the mentally ill are more likely to be victims of violence rather than the offenders.
Myth 2 – They do not get better and treatment is ineffective
The truth is that even severe psychiatric disorders can be treated effectively and people can lead normal lives at work, at home and in the community. While treatment of psychiatric disorders has evolved, the media continues to show outdated practices. This highly inaccurate portrayal often prevents both the mentally ill and their families from seeking treatment.
Myth 3 – Mental health professionals are evil, mentally unstable, or unethical
The diagnosis and treatment of mental health disorders requires patience, skill and comprehensive evaluation. Mental health care professionals spend years in acquiring the qualifications and training required. Yet media portrayals undermine the integrity of these professionals. This further discourages people who are already hesitant to seek treatment.
Myth 4 – Teenagers with mental illness are just going through a phase
This encourages parents of teenagers to ignore symptoms as something that teenagers will outgrow. Movie portrayals of the teenager as a ‘rebellious free spirit’ further glamorises it in the eyes of the teen. The truth is that the onset of many serious psychiatric illnesses is in adolescence or early adulthood and early treatment offers the best outcomes.
Myth 5 – There is a genius behind every mental illness
While some people with mental illness are undoubtedly gifted, a vast majority of people with mental illness are ordinary individuals who want to get on with their lives and work productively. This caution is specially true for parents of children and adolescents; who view the role of the therapist as one who will unlock the hidden genius in their child. These unrealistic expectations put unnecessary pressure on children, often leading to a relapse; or a loss of faith in the treating clinician.
Sympathetic but exaggerated media portrayals may do more harm than good. Simple achievements need to be highlighted just as much. As an example, while the media annually highlights the success of children with physical disabilities in the board exams, yet no story deals with the successes of those with children struggling against schizophrenia and other mental illnesses. Sharing such stories will increase awareness among the public about how regular treatment and supportive therapy can help a child return to normal functioning.

The media’s defence is that the public is not interested in watching something dull and boring, and that they need to dramatize and exaggerate portrayals. However, authentic stories of mental illness have heartbreak, drama, humour and everything in between. Sensitive and accurate portrayals by the media will go a long way in removing the stigma and isolation associated with mental illness, bring the ill into the ambit of treatment, and improve their integration into society. This level of reporting can only be  reached with considerable effort. We need to understand the media are geared towards sensationalism, and the facts regarding mental illness and the people affected by them are more nuanced.

  1. Dara Roth Edney. Mass media and mental illness: a literature review. Canadian Mental Health Association. 2004. Accessed 21-Sep-2015
  2. Murphy NA1, Fatoye F, Wibberley C. The changing face of newspaper representations of the mentally ill. J Ment Health. 2013 Jun;22(3):271-82. doi: 10.3109/09638237.2012.734660. Epub 2013 Jan 16.
  3. Patrick W Corrigan and Amy C Watson. Understanding the impact of stigma on people with mental illness. World Psychiatry. 2002 Feb; 1(1): 16–20.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Recovery from mental illness

recovery from mental illness
Recovery to meaningful functioning after even severe mental illness is the present standard of care in mental health treatment. Recovery is made possible by medications that are now widely available at a reasonable cost. Planning and persistence with treatment need to be ensured to achieve a quality recovery.

Recovery from mental disorders is a process of change through which individuals
  1. improve their health and wellness
  2. live a self-directed life
  3. strive to reach their full potential
The road to recovery from mental illness has four components that together give meaning to life.
1. Health
Overcoming or managing the disease and living in a physically and emotionally healthy way.
Start with the basics - medication, meals, sleep and exercise. Establishing routines for these basic health tasks are essential for recovery of function. Medication is the corner stone on which recovery is nurtured. In the absence of medication frequent relapses and recurrences disrupt basic functions that protect the individual from the illness producing effects of daily stressors.
2. Home
A stable and safe place to live.
In daily practice we see persons with the most severe mental illnesses putting aside their disturbing thoughts, controlling their behaviours and getting back to school or work; while others with a milder illness are unable to leave their preoccupations and move ahead with life. Trusting relationships are quite often what they lack. Trust makes the home feel safe.
3. Purpose
Meaningful daily activities, such as a job, school, volunteerism, family caretaking, or creative endeavors, and the independence, income and resources to participate in society.
A person needs something to recover to. Amazing recovery can be sustained in a supportive job environment. Some bosses give this support naturally. It may be it is in their outlook; they see the illness as just one aspect of the persons identity. Vice versa, others with good symptom recovery without stigmata are unable to function in a hostile work place, and are unable to integrate with society  and lead meaningful lives.
4. Community
Relationships and social networks that provide support, friendship, love, and hope.
From volunteering at the community bookshop to joining a local football team; community interactions bring many otherwise isolated individuals into useful contact with others. These valued interactions are based on a personal identity which is not connected to their mental illness.
Recovery is a process towards achieving ones potential. The first small steps result in giant gains. Without them the individual is unable to reach any level of meaningful recovery. The first step for persons with serious mental illness is medication. Without medication, recovery from serious mental illness is long-drawn, stigmatising, and characterised by frequent relapses. Medication is the pillar around which recovery is fostered. A supportive home, work-place and community further augments this process. Recovery from severe mental illness is a process, it does not happen overnight, but for those who stay the course it brings the meaning back to life.

  1. SAMHSA’s Definition and Guiding Principles of Recovery – Answering the Call for Feedback
     Accessed 04-Jan-2012

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Discrimination of psychiatrically ill persons by hospitals

Healthcare discrimination of mentally ill persons
Discrimination of mentally ill persons by hospitals
A young woman with psychiatric illness was refused admission at a leading tertiary care hospital in Pune. The reason - “mentally unstable patients are known to cause harm not only to themselves but to others as well. The hospital lacks facilities and infrastructure for catering to psychiatric patients.” A similar unwritten policy of denying inpatient care on grounds of psychiatric illness exists in at least one other large corporate hospital in Pune.

We have already stressed the importance of access to healthcare for persons with mental illness. We will now further explore the stereotype of harm in mental illness. The stigma associated with this stereotype has an adverse impact on timely delivery of healthcare to persons with psychiatric illness.

Are mentally ill persons likely to harm other hospital inpatients?

Hospital and healthcare settings have the highest levels workplace related violence across all industry sectors (CDC 2002).  The place where patient perpetrated violence is most likely to occur is the Emergency or Casualty department not the wards (Farooq 2009). Patients of all categories mostly attack staff or junior doctors - the ones they are in regular and direct contact with. In most cases violence is perpetrated by arrogant patient attendants not the patients themselves, whatever their diagnosis. For the rest violence is a result of unacceptable staff behaviour, and dissatisfied patients or attendants. It is rare for patients of any diagnosis to physically attack and harm each other in a hospital. Even in acute inpatient psychiatry units violence towards other patients or staff is less than 3% of total incidents of violence (Biancosino 2009). So much for psychiatric illness being “known to cause harm”.

Are patients with psychiatric illnesses the only ones that harm other patients? At the height of the swine-flu scare in 2009 no patient suspected of having the disease was denied treatment or admission. Yet swine-fly is known to be highly contagious and lethal. Special protocols and facilities were drawn up and earmarked overnight. So the potential for harm is not the overriding factor in denial of treatment.

Patients with psychiatric illness require minimal investigation, and respond rapidly to cheap and effective medication. Return on investment may be what it is all about. Psychiatrically ill pateintsdo not make much money for a hospital. It is more lucrative to provide skewed facilities for a liver transplant that would require weeks of ICU care, extensive investigation and invasive procedures. It would also make news for all the right reasons.

Mental illness accounts for 80-90% of completed suicides. Serious suicide attempts by poisoning or jumping result in emergency hospital admissions. Treatments would entail stay in the Intensive Care Unit, utilisation of the Operation Theatre, mechanical ventilation, and extensive monitoring and investigations. All this translates into large cash transactions over a short period of time. No hospital administrator would deny admission to these critically ill patients - ethical considerations, policy and stigma not withstanding.

Is it really possible to exclude patients with psychiatric illness from the hospital healthcare system?

The dichotomy between soma and psyche, physical and mental is artificial. This was formally enunciated in Para 1 of the WHOs Alma-Ata declaration (1978) and is the accepted definition of health for medical students since decades. Psychiatric and somatic illnesses coexist with and impact eachother. Ignoring this interaction is adversely affecting the outcomes of chronic illnesses like diabetes, heart disease, cancer and respiratory disease. The World Mental Health Day 2010 document specifically evaluates the evidence and stresses the urgent need to integrate mental heatlhcare for these chronic illnesses which account for 60% of the worlds deaths.

Walk into any hospital ICU and you will see at least one delirious patient strapped to the bed with physical restraints. Psychological aspects of critical illness are given the short shrift only because the mindset is one of discrimination and disrespect for the individual. Psychiatric and physical health problems do not exist in isolation. Their physical basis and vice versa cannot be excluded by artificial dichotomies.

Is it desirable to treat persons with mental illness in a general hospital setting?

Integration of mental healthcare delivery with existing facilities is a major thrust of the WHO (2008). Hospitals need to provide an accessible and acceptable location for treatment of acute exacerbations of mental health disorders in the same way that they currently do for physical health disorders. This would also enable access to services for physical health problems that arise during the inpatient stays of persons with mental health problems.

Deinstitutionalisation of psychiatric and mental health care has been stressed as a human right since the mid 20th century. A step in this direction for Pune's hospitals would be to draw up and implement guidelines to prevent and manage hospital violence. These guidelines already exist (CDC 2002, OSHA 2004).

  1. Biancosino B, Delmonte S, Grassi L, Santone G, Preti A, Miglio R, de Girolamo G; PROGRES-Acute Group. Violent behavior in acute psychiatric inpatient facilities: a national survey in Italy. J Nerv Ment Dis. 2009 Oct;197(10):772-82.
  2. CDC. Violence - occupational hazards in hospitals.  DHHS (NIOSH) Publication No. 2002–101. April 2002
  3. J Farooq, A Mustafa, D Singh, GH Yattoo, A Tabish, GJ Qadiri. Violence in hospitals. Journal of the Academy of Hospital Administration, Volume 21, No. 1 & 2 Jan-June & July-December 2009; 16-20
  4. Occupational and Safety Health Administration. Guidelines for preventing workplace violence for health care and social service workers. 2004. Publication no. OSHA 3148-01R
  5. Soliman AE, Reza H. Risk factors and correlates of violence among acutely ill adult psychiatric inpatients. Psychiatr Serv. 2001 Jan;52(1):75-80.
  6. World Federation for Mental Health (WFMH). Mental health and chronic physical illness - the need for continued and integrated care. World mental health day. 10 October 2010.
  7. World Health Organisation (WHO) Declaration of Alma-Ata. International Conference on Primary Health Care, Alma-Ata, USSR, 6-12 September 1978
  8. WHO/Wonca.  Integrating mental health into primary care: a global perspective. World Health Organisation and World Organization of Family Doctors (Wonca). 2008.

Friday, December 31, 2010

Caregivers of mentally ill persons - Do's and Don'ts

Caregivers of persons with chronic mental illness are usually family members, 'individuals whose own happiness is entwined with the well-being of people who are dear to them'. The burden of care is associated with significant stress. For one family the stress was unbearable. They abandoned their mentally ill daughter in a hospital. This story is repeated often enough in urban areas like Pune.

How can a caregiver help a relative with mental illness?


Follow the treatment
See to it that the person takes the prescribed dosage of medication regularly. Failure to keep to the dosage may lead to a relapse of the illness.
Watch for a relapse
A person in your care may suffer a relapse for no obvious reason. Watch out for early signs such as sleeplessness, restlessness, and irritability. Take the person immediately to a psychiatrist, so that medication may be adjusted.
Take interest and appreciate
Talk to the person. Show an interest in what he or she is doing. Appreciation of the smallest task is important. Try to prolong normal talk and conversation.
Assign small responsibilities
Get the person to perform simple tasks around the house. Keep these tasks small and uncomplicated.
The need for supervision varies.
  • Constant supervision: Persons who are chronically ill or who express suicidal thoughts and seem very depressed.
  • Periodical supervision: To ensure that drugs are taken, personal hygiene is maintained and that there are no signs of depression.
  • Minimal supervision: As patients become self-sufficient they can be trusted to function alone safely.
The family must realise limitations and weaknesses of the person being cared for. Caregivers can minimize frustration by learning not to expect the impossible the ill relative. The patients condition will improve – but slowly.
Support services
Do utilise support services available in the community. Mental illness is included in the Persons with Disabilities Act (1995). This act has sections related to education and employment of individuals with mental illness.
Ensure some ‘ME’ Time
While caring for a loved one it is easy to neglect oneself. Stick to a routine for meals and sleep. Arrange for someone to care for the relative at least once or twice a week. Preserved health will ensure continued care for the dependent relative. Caregivers who spend some time away from their ill relatives express more satisfaction in caring for them.


Don’t criticise
Derogatory criticism, taunting or disbelieving can have a traumatic effect on the mentally ill person who is in a very sensitive state. Arguing and harassing only adds to the stress and may lead to a return of acute symptoms.
Refrain from over-involvement
Sometimes the person being cared for may interpret interest and support as interference and meddling. In that case it is better to back off. Stand by in case of need, rather than getting involved actively.
Don’t exert social pressure
Do not try to make the person aware of social and financial responsibilities while undergoing treatment. Show that you believe in and value their efforts. As the person improves, he or she should be allowed to grow slowly into a realisation of abilities and responsibilities.

What are the factors related to caregiver satisfaction?

(Kartalova-O’Doherty and Doherty, 2010)
Finding caring services. A caring psychiatrist plays a crucial role in caregiver satisfaction.
Being accepted as a partner in caring for the ill person. Satisfied caregivers see their role as an additional source of social support for rehabilitation or recovery for their relative. They feel this role is accepted by the mental health services.
Interrelated factors
  • Supportive and non-intrusive relationships between carers and their ill relatives
  • Supportive community. A supportive community is essential to reduce stigma associated with chronic mental illness.
  • Suitable family support programmes. Caregivers are left to fend for themselves or when they give up, to leave their relatives at some soul-less 'home'.

Caregivers have a major role to play in re-socialization, vocational and social skills training of a relative with mental illness. There is a shortage of rehabilitation professionals to deliver these services in Pune. The lack of infrastructure, funds and political support for mental heath care places almost the entire burden of caring for persons with mental illness on their families (Avasthi, 2010).

  1. Avasthi A. Preserve and strengthen family to promote mental health. Indian J Psychiatry 2010;52:113-26
  2. Yulia Kartalova-O’Doherty and Donna Tedstone Doherty. Satisfied Carers of Persons With Enduring Mental Illness: Who and Why? Int J Soc Psychiatry. 2009 May; 55(3): 257–271. doi: 10.1177/0020764008093687.