An interesting opinion piece in the New York Times this past week highlights unintended consequences of the ways in which we talk about mental illness and the strategies we use to reduce stigma around it.
Dr. Lisa Pryor, a mental health care practitioner in Australia comments that increasing discussion, publicity and stigma reduction around “moderate” mental illnesses like anxiety and depression has the effect of increasing the stigma of more serious illnesses that may require hospitalization. She has found patients resisting diagnoses of schitzophrenia, mania, severe depression and personality disorders, often insisting that they only need antidepressants to treat their “depression”.
Dr. Pryor also observes that the narrative around “mental illness can happen to anyone” obscures the way in which people from disadvantaged backgrounds have much more difficulty accessing treatment. And although World Health Organization data show that the highest prevalence of depression by region is for women in Africa, at 5.9 percent, there is likely to be little or no treatment available in these areas.
A better conversation about mental health and illness would consider more nuance: varying levels and types of depression, different illness discussed seperately instead of being lumped together, and a deeper understanding of the needs and struggles of people living with mental illness.
A thought-provoking read!