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Stigma remains key barrier to treating mental health

Despite best efforts in the health care profession to diminish the stigma around mental health, a British survey says it's still very much alive and ranks as the "key deterrent" preventing people from getting the help they need.

"We now have clear evidence that stigma has a toxic effect by preventing people seeking help for mental health problems," says Professor Graham Thornicroft, of King's College London and senior author of the report published in Psychological Medicine. "The profound reluctance to be 'a mental health patient' means people will put off seeing a doctor for months, years, or even at all, which in turn delays their recovery," adds Thornicroft, who is with the college's Institute of Psychiatry, in a press release.

The study drew on data from 144 studies and includes more than 90,000 participants worldwide.

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Approximately one in four people have mental health problems, ranging from psychosis, bipolar disorder, major depression and anxiety disorders. Yet in Europe and the United States, the report says, up to 75 per cent of people with mental health disorders do not seek or receive treatment, which often results in dire mental health outcomes.

Thornicroft and lead author Dr. Sarah Clement, who is also with the psychiatry institute at King's College, examined how individuals suffering from mental health disorders sought and interacted with general practitioners, specialist mental health services, and talking therapies (the generic name for the range of psychotherapies). They found the main types of stigma preventing people from getting care were "treatment stigma" (stigma associated with using or received mental health treatment services), and "internalized stigma" (shame and embarrassment). Other barriers included fear of disclosing a mental health condition; concerns about confidentiality; wanting to handle the problem themselves; and not believing they needed help.

The study also found young people, men, people from minority ethnic groups, and people in the military and health professions are most likely to avoid seeking help because of stigma.

Clement says their study clearly shows that mental health stigma is a "particularly common barrier." In the paper, she advocates for governments and health care providers to launch anti-stigma campaigns to encourage more people to walk into mental health treatment centres.

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