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How do we engage global communities in the de-stigmatisation of mental illness?

11 February 2021
Volume 30 · Issue 3


The World Health Organization (WHO) has acknowledged that high-income countries often address discrimination against people with mental health problems, but that low/middle income countries often have significant gaps in their approach to this subject—in how they measure the problem, and in strategies, policies and programmes to prevent it. Localised actions have occurred. These include the Hong Kong government's 2017 international conference on overcoming the stigma of mental illness, and the 2018 London Global Ministerial Mental Health Summit. Furthermore, the UK's Medical Research Council has funded Professor Graham Thornicroft (an expert in mental health discrimination and stigma) to undertake a global study. These and other approaches are welcome and bring improvements; however, they often rely on traditional westernised, ‘global north’ views/approaches. Given the rapid global demographic changes/dynamics and the lack of evidence demonstrating progress towards positive mental health globally, it is time to consider alternative and transformative approaches that encompasses diverse cultures and societies and aligns to the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), specifically UN SDG 3 (Good health and wellbeing). This article describes the need for the change and suggests how positive change can be achieved through transnational inclusive mental health de-stigmatising education.

Some countries embrace and others exclude people with a mental illness. There are multiple contextual reasons why there is a need to develop alternative mental health de-stigmatising education. These include global/geographical, political, societal, cultural, religious and professional influences. The prevalence of mental health-related problems globally has been a concern for many years. The World Health Organization (WHO) acknowledged that, in high-income countries, this is often, though not always, being addressed and that low- and middle-income countries often have a ‘significant gap’ in how they ‘measure the problem, and in strategies, policies and programmes to prevent mental disorders' (WHO, 2014:8).

Evidence exists that suggests there are factors that can delay or even prevent the treatment of mental illness (Corrigan, 2004; Henderson et al, 2013). These factors include poor understanding of mental illness as well as prejudice and discrimination against people with a mental illness. There have been several attempts to demonstrate how stigma has a major impact on whether health intervention is sought (for example by Scott et al (2015) and Link et al (2016)). By inference, through changing these factors, it should reduce stigma towards those with a mental illness, but also help people to seek out and participate in mental health care.

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