‘Worse than the condition itself’: Lancet panel calls for radical action to end stigma and discrimination around mental health

Recent estimates suggest one in eight people, nearly one billion people globally, are living with a mental health condition.

With radical action we can end stigma and discrimination against people with mental health conditions and their families globally, says The Lancet Commission on Ending Stigma and Discrimination in Mental Health, which sets out key recommendations to achieve this goal.

Recent estimates suggest one in eight people, nearly one billion people globally, are living with a mental health condition. This rises to one in seven 10-19 year olds. These people experience a double threat: the impact of the condition itself and the damaging social consequences of stigma and discrimination. There was an online launch event for the Commission report at the WHO on the occasion of World Mental Health Day (Oct 10)

The COVID-19 pandemic helped to shine a light on the urgent mental health situation globally, and there was an estimated 25% rise in the prevalence of depression and anxiety in the first year of the pandemic. However, despite the high incidence of mental health conditions around the world, mental health-related stigma and discrimination is also widespread, leading to exclusion of individuals from society and the denial of basic human rights, such as job and education opportunities and access to healthcare, including mental health care.

The new Lancet Commission is the result of work by over 50 contributors from across the world, notably including people with lived experience of a mental health condition, according to the report.

Containing testimonies and poems from people with lived experience, the Commission reviewed the evidence on effective interventions to reduce stigma and called for immediate action from governments, international organisations, employers, healthcare provider and media organisations, along with active contributions from people with lived experience, to work together to eliminate mental health stigma and discrimination.

“Many people with lived experience of mental health conditions describe stigma as ‘worse than the condition itself. There is now clear evidence that we know how to effectively reduce, and ultimately eliminate, stigma and discrimination. Our Commission makes eight radical, practical, and evidence-based recommendations for action to liberate millions of people around the world from the social isolation, discrimination and violations of human rights caused by stigma” , Commission Co-Chair Professor Sir Graham Thornicroft from King’s College London has said in the report.

Co-author Charlene Sunkel, Founder / CEO of the Global Mental Health Peer Network, South Africa and a person with lived experience of schizophrenia, said in the report, “The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in higher numbers of people experiencing mental health conditions and urgent action is needed to ensure these individuals don’t also experience the potentially severe consequences of stigma and discrimination. We must empower and support people with lived experience of mental health conditions to play active roles in stigma reduction efforts and for this reason our Commission includes voices which whisper, speak or shout about their experiences in poems, testimonies, and quotations.”

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Thara Rangaswamy, The Lancet Commissioner and Schizophrenia Research Foundation (SCARF), Chennai, said in an official statement that there is still a lot of stigma in India, although it is gradually reducing. The main issues here are that women with a diagnosis of severe mental disorder face more stigma, as do their family members. Stigma is also closely related to marriage and employment preventing social inclusion. Indian media, especially the visual media like television serials still continue to portray the PLEs of mental illnesses in a negative way. In this context, the guidelines and suggestions of the Lancet Commission will indeed prove very useful to challenge these stereotypes and initiate a stigma reduction programme, Rangaswamy said.

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