Youth Anti-Stigma Initiative 2014-2015 Final Report Confirms Success!
Many people with mental health problems and mental illness often experience stigma — negative attitudes and the negative behaviours they produce. Stigma spreads fear and misinformation, labels individuals, and perpetuates stereotypes. More than 60 per cent of people with mental health problems and mental illness won't seek the help they need; stigma is one of the main reasons.
Stigma is everywhere
Some 20 per cent of Canada’s population lives with a mental illness. That’s about seven million of us. But despite how common it is, mental illness continues to be met with widespread stigma: in hospitals, workplaces, and schools; in rural and urban communities; even among close friends and families. It occurs around the world, not confined within national boundaries or cultural groups.
The experience of stigma
People experience stigma as a barrier — one that can affect nearly every aspect of life. It limits opportunities for employment, housing, and education, and can cause the loss of family and friends. It can affect a person’s self-image when he or she starts to believe the negative views held by others. Many misconceptions contribute to stigma. A common myth, sometimes perpetuated by the media, is that people with mental illnesses are typically violent. In truth, they are much more likely to be victims of crime, hate, and discrimination than to be perpetrators of them.
Stigma can be reduced
Reducing stigma requires a change in behaviours and attitudes toward acceptance, respect, and equitable treatment of people with mental health problems and mental illnesses. The Carter Center Mental Health Program in the U.S. identified reducing stigma and discrimination as key to improving not only individual quality of life, but mental health systems. This happens by understanding that mental illness is not anyone’s choice and recovery is possible with appropriate treatment and supports. The more stigma can be reduced, the better the outcomes for people and programs promoting mental wellness.
Changing Directions, Changing Lives: the Mental Health Strategy for Canada calls on all Canadians to reduce stigma. The MHCC is working to reduce stigma in every area of its work. Its Opening Minds initiative, in partnership with some 110 organizations, aims to reduce discrimination by changing negative behaviours and attitudes often associated with mental health problems and mental illnesses.
Evaluation of anti-stigma programs
To date, Opening Minds has evaluated about 75 anti-stigma programs across Canada to identify those that are effective and can be replicated, focusing on four primary audiences: healthcare providers, youth, the workforce, and media. In 2013–14, the MHCC entered a new phase, successfully transitioning from “creating knowledge” to “creating change.” Five years of anti-stigma research is informing the promotion and launch of programs that will enable quick uptake on anti-stigma initiatives that have the potential to improve the mental wellbeing of tens of thousands of Canadians every year.
Improving mental health literacy
Few people know how to help when a family member, colleague or friend first begins to experience a mental health problem or crisis. The Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) program changes that, giving people the knowledge and skills to confidently assist another person until the crisis is resolved or appropriate support or treatment is found. Since 2007, MHFA Canada’s network of more than 1,000 trainers across the country has resulted in over 100,000 Canadians trained in MHFA, a course that research has shown to be beneficial to participants, their communities, and families.
Helping workplaces see past labels
The Working Mind is a course aimed at managers and employees to help reduce stigma in the workplace and promote mental health and resilience. An adaptation of the Department of National Defence’s Road to Mental Readiness program (R2MR), it categorizes signs, indicators, and behaviours of good to poor mental health under a four-colour continuum. R2MR adaptations have also been developed for first responders. This model helps people to see past labels and the stigma attached to them, and shows how people can move back and forth across the continuum of mental health and mental illness.
Change is possible. Stigma can be significantly reduced. People with mental health problems and mental illnesses can be treated respectfully and equally. To make this happen requires the collective effort of all Canadians — at home, at work, in schools, in the media, and on the frontlines of healthcare. The MHCC is developing the tools and resources to help everyone make this difference.
Need for inclusion of people with lived experience
People with lived experience of mental health problems and mental illness can contribute significantly in the fight against stigma. It is crucial that they be included in the process of designing services, developing and delivering solutions, and executing programs to combat stigma.
The importance of contact-based education
Contact-based education involves interactions between people with a lived experience of mental health problems or mental illness and those who might hold stigmatizing attitudes. We now know that contact-based education has been proven to be an effective way to reduce stigmatizing attitudes and behaviours. It is also a key element in many anti-stigma programs for youth.
Other successful approaches
Opening Minds’ evaluations of anti-stigma programs discovered successful methods of reducing stigma in addition to contact-based education and including people with lived experience of mental health problems and mental illness. For example, programs must be tailored to specific audiences versus taking one-size-fits-all approaches. The most effective programs use follow-up interventions or booster sessions, with stand-alone interventions having only limited success in reducing stigma. Working with the media to raise awareness of mental health issues among the public is another effective approach.
The Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) created a number of resources to reduce discrimination by changing negative behaviours and attitudes often associated with mental health problems and mental illnesses. Click on the links below for more information.