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June 26, 2007
UK's Parliament Mental Health Bill Debate May Be Increasing Stigma and Discrimination
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Professor Graham Thornicroft, a psychiatrist at the Institute of Psychiatry in King's College London, has recently written a book called "Shunned: Discrimination against People with Mental Illness". The book describes how discrimination and stigma can profoundly affect the lives of people with mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Stigma can manifest itself in subtle ways such as in the terminology used to describe the person or their illness, or in more obvious ways - by the way the mentally ill might be treated and deprived of basic human rights.
The book also summarizes Professor Thornicroft's views on how the way Britain's Parliament is justifying a bill pertaining to forced treatment of the mentally ill might further stigma against people with mental illnesses.
Speaking in The Royal College of Psychiatrists Annual Conference, Prefessor Thornicroft said that by the debate is strongly reinforcing connections between mental illness and violence. He says that the Government's repeated justification for its new Mental Health Bill is in relation to one violent case (the Michael Stone case), which only serves "to make social exclusion even worse for people with mental illness".
Other people, however, have a very different view on the violence and stigma issue. Dr. E. Fuller Torrey, for example, points to research that demonstrates that while most people who have schizophrenia are not violent - there is a group of people who have schizophrenia, are not on medication and are untreated, and who abuse street drugs that are at significantly higher risk of being violent.
Dr. Torrey and the Treatment Advocacy Center argue that it is not the talk of a small group of government employees and treatment advocates that causes stigma. Instead, it is the actual the violence by a relatively small group of untreated people who have schizophrenia that do become violent and that results in news stories (like the Virginia Tech shooting) in all the major newspapers around the world - that cause stigma. The Treatment Advocacy Center (and the government ministers who support the bill in the UK) argue that only if you can reduce the violence, will the stigma go away. As long as the violence continues, stigma and the association with violence will continue.
The advocates of the UK bill (like similar ones in the US) argue that by helping people get treatment, and thereby reducing the violence that is associated with schizophrenia, that you will lower the stigma levels associated with the disorder.
Posted by Jeanie Wolfson at June 26, 2007 06:20 AM
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