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Visions Journal

A reminder that this article from our magazine Visions was published more than 1 year ago. It is here for reference only. Some information in it may no longer be current. It also represents the point of the view of the author only. See the author box at the bottom of the article for more about the contributor.

Increasing awareness, decreasing stigma and discrimination

Nicole Chovi

Reprinted from "Stigma & Discrimination" issue of Visions Journal, 2005, 2 (6), p. 36

Education about mental illness is critical to enhancing the lives of people with mental illness and their families. They often indicate that stigma is harder to deal with than the disease itself. Uninformed attitudes compound the difficulties experienced by those with the illness and by their families who support them. Mental illness education humanizes and demystifies the disorders. Understanding leads to compassion and acceptance.

The Partnership Education program is offered through the BC Schizophrenia Society (BCSS). It uses personal storytelling as a basis for informing people about mental illness. A person with a mental illness, a family member and a mental health professional, brought together in a climate of trust and respect, share their experiences to educate community groups about serious mental illness. These team members each talk about mental illness from their own perspective. This provides audience members with an opportunity to see the ‘whole picture’—not just one perspective.

The two main goals of Partnership presentations are 1) to present information and facts about schizophrenia and other serious mental illness in order to increase awareness and understanding in communities, and 2) to achieve closer relationships between consumers, family members and professionals.

The model we use has proven to be a powerful technique for educating the community about mental illness. Since 1990 the Partnership program has been used in communities throughout BC, and the demand for presentations is ever increasing.

Sample audience responses

  • We need reminding that this matter of mental illness is complex and we should not stereotype it.”

  • "True stories from real people. This is an excellent presentation, very informative and worthwhile. Everyone’s personal experiences helped me to understand how it actually affects people.”

  • "Excellent presentation! We admire your courage.”

  • "The presentation personalized the issue and the information I have learned will assist me in dealing with the mentally ill in my job and in everyday life.”

  • “It was truly wonderful to learn about a subject that is usually kept on the back page of the paper.”

Objectives

The program is an education vehicle designed to:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Dispel myths about mental illness

  • Inform the public and other agencies of the facts about schizophrenia and other serious mental illness

  • Humanize mental illness issues by focusing on the people rather than the diagnosis

  • Reduce stigma and discrimination

  • Help build relationships between professionals, families and consumers

  • Maintain ongoing communication about the needs of families and consumers

  • Empower families and consumers by providing training in skills necessary to work with others and to speak out

  • Improve the chances of timely intervention and treatment by increasing public awareness and recognition of mental illness symptoms

  • Reduce the negative impact of mental illness on the community

Benefits for team members

Participants receive many benefits including the opportunity to work as part of a team which can also enable panel members to learn of other perspectives on mental illness. Panel members also report increased self-esteem, pride and enjoyment in knowing that one is providing a valuable service. Skills training for each team members allows them to practice areas in communication and presentation that are needed to effectively present their stories. This, combined with planning, evaluating and debriefing, allows for feedback to make improvements.

One psychiatrist remarked about a client panel member: “She’s developed significant confidence through the opportunity to do public presentations from a patient’s perspective. She feels much more adept socially... and this all gave her a much more solid sense of herself and from that evolved a new relationship with her illness.”

Results

  • Increased confidence and improved skills of presenters

  • An appreciation for the presenters by the audience members

  • Increased public awareness of the prevalence of mental illness (i.e., it can happen to anyone)

  • Better service quality for consumers and families

  • Better understanding and increased knowledge of mental illness and its effects on individuals and their families and friends

  • Increased ability of people with mental illness and their families to cope, adapt and initiate changes within the mental health system

  • Increased support and improved communication amongst people with mental illness, family members and mental health professionals

Who can request a Partnership presentation?

Everyone can benefit from education about mental illness. Partnership presentations have been made to church groups, public transit drivers, police departments, hospitals, mental health centres, home support workers, financial aid workers, crisis lines, lay counselling services, social workers, high schools, colleges, universities, medical and professional associations, counselling centres, senior centres, and service clubs.

 
About the Author

Nicole Chovil is Director of Education with the British Columbia Schizophrenia Society

Notes

For further information about the Partnership Education program, contact your nearest BCSS regional coordinator or branch, or visit the BCSS website at www.bcss.org

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