Angles on Stigma


A couple of unrelated articles that I turfed out today that both refer to stigma attached to those with mental illnesses in vastly different settings.

Firstly, an article in the Times Higher Educational Supplement by an Australian lecturer, Caron Dunn, in which she urges other lecturers to pay more attention and give more respect to students (and colleagues) who have mental illnesses. She explains her experiences that have seen students labeled as unmotivated when they have diagnosed mental illnesses and urges more attention to be given to students who may need additional support.

So look around: if you teach 100 students a year, it is statistically probable that 19 of them will be affected. Look at your colleagues, too: if there are 50 lecturers in your faculty, nine or ten of them could have been mentally ill or are suffering right now.

Of course, the figures refer to all types of mental illness, from minor and fleeting problems to major and chronic ones.

Despite the best attempts of governments and health authorities to destigmatise mental illness, in many cases it is still not treated with the same seriousness as purely physical conditions.

I have talked to a student in tears because another lecturer had accused him of being a malingerer, despite being registered for his mental condition with the institution’s disability unit.

Extraordinary as this seems, it still happens.

She goes on to explain that often in a university setting, a tutor may be the first port of call for help with a student who is having difficulties and that it is important for tutors not to stigmatise or alienate students who may need medical attention.

I always believe students who blame mental-health issues for poor academic progress – a few might be lying, of course, but I think that in most cases, it is a genuine cry for help and understanding.

Food for thought for the academic community.

image david55king @ flickr

The other article is from a university newspaper  but it is from a religious Jewish university (Yeshiva University)  in the States that talks about mental illness in the process of arranged marriages!

I have to say, it isn’t an angle I had considered but it makes for an interesting story because the discussion is how does it affect the prospects of ‘making a match’.

The article works through the processes that guide the decision to meet someone who you will be potentially marrying as a sum of the whole rather than a blanket decision that can be made on the basis of one aspect (mental illness) of the whole.

They also recommend that the ‘potential mate’ is informed and that if professional help is being sought, that this is also shared and that it should act as a reassurance.

Ending on the note that

Mental illness as a dark secret that must be hidden at all costs is rapidly becoming a relic of an era long gone. With guidance, courage and mutual understanding, mental illness can be handled like any other disability; as a small part of who the person is, not something that defines him or her beyond all else.

Nicely put. If only it were so easy in practice..

8 thoughts on “Angles on Stigma

  1. You would think that nursing lecturers would be the most understanding for all of them. But to be honest some of them don’t have a clue. The number of times I’ve had to explain myself…..
    They need to have better training in student support.

  2. Some are better than others cb…at least on my course. Some are genuinely supportive (usually those who have practised in mental health, and are younger), and others appear to start to assess your mental state every time they come into contact with you, if you disclose to them. For that reason I have only disclosed my bipolar to my personal tutor who is of the first group, but luckily have not had any difficulties so far anyway. I know of other students who have not been so lucky with other tutors and have had to leave…

    • I suppose I was thinking of a particular situation where we had one particularly nasty lecturer who called a student out as being depressed in front of everyone. She was shattered (understandably). And he’s still teaching at the same university. I am really glad to hear you are getting the support. I should be less cynical!

  3. “Nicely put. If only it were so easy in practice..”

    Stigma also prevents people from getting help–the other side of the coin. Someone notices something is a bit “off”, offers help, and is rebuffed….

  4. I work for Children’s Administration in the U.S., providing financial aid for college to former foster youth. Two of the youth on my caseload had mental health breakdowns and had to be hospitalized last quarter. They had to withdraw from school, lose their financial aid and find someone to live with while they recovered. There are no breaks for those with mental health issues.

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