Those with lived experience are our greatest allies
People with mental health challenges face numerous negative outcomes of stigma on a daily basis, including discrimination, interpersonal difficulties, increased stress, the feeling that they are a burden to others, and poorer access to mental health (and even physical health) services.1 Reducing stigma not only increases the quality of life for individuals with mental illness but also helps to create more inclusive communities.
It turns out that our greatest allies in stigma reduction are actually those with lived experience of mental illness.
As part of my university research, I conducted a review of stigma reduction programs. Though the review considered stigma reduction initiatives and mental illness generally, my research focused on the highly stigmatized borderline personality disorder (BPD). I found that contact-based stigma reduction programs are more effective than education-only approaches at reducing service-provider, self-, and public stigma.
Contact-based programs are delivered by people with lived experience of mental illness. They show that people with mental health challenges are normal human beings who can have a good quality of life and be contributing members of society.
Overall, the contact-based programs reviewed were successful in decreasing negative attitudes towards those with mental illness, decreasing stigma, improving mental health literacy, improving the well-being of the mentally ill individual and increasing his or her desire to seek help, and improving the coping skills of all participants.1 Another positive outcome was that, by reducing stigma, participants in these programs were more willing to help people with a mental illness.
Showing that recovery is possible gives hope to those who may be struggling with a mental illness themselves. It also empowers the person with lived experience delivering the stigma reduction program.1 Empowering those with lived experience may also encourage the more far-reaching advocacy that is necessary when it comes to highly stigmatized disorders.
The success of contact-based stigma reduction programs suggests that such programs should be readily accessible to everyone—not only to improve the lives of those with mental illness and to increase public awareness and understanding but to continue growing communities founded on human relationships rather than false assumptions.
For full findings and more information, please visit www.laurieedmundson.com.
About the author
Laurie has a bachelor’s degree in criminology and psychology and is a Mental Health Advocate
Dalky, H.F. (2012). Mental illness stigma reduction interventions: Review of intervention trials. Western Journal of Nursing Research, 34(4). 520-547. doi: 10.1177/0193945911400638.