Stigma and discrimination: An ever present problem for people with disabilities

Discrimination against those with psychosocial disabilities can be especially damaging for persons with severe mental health conditions since it can lead to further mental and emotional anguish. — Filepic

Zero Discrimination Day is an annual day celebrated on March 2 each year by the United Nations and other international organisations.

This day is especially meaningful for persons with disabilities including those with psychosocial disabilities.

The day aims to promote equality for persons with all forms of disabilities in practice throughout the world.

Discrimination is an ever present problem that affects individuals with disabilities.

Persons with psychosocial disabilities are even more disproportionately vulnerable to discrimination and unequal access to resources and opportunities.

Therefore, it is important to bring awareness to the prejudice and discrimination faced by this segment of people.

Psychosocial disabilities can include major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, autism spectrum disorder and other mental health conditions.

Individuals with psychosocial disabilities are often subject to cruel stereotypes and discrimination in the form of verbal abuse, isolation, and stigmatisation in society.

This discrimination can be especially damaging for persons with severe mental health conditions since it can lead to further mental and emotional distress by undermining their self-worth and dignity.

It is important to address the unequal access to resources and opportunities faced by persons with psychosocial disabilities.

Lack of resources can lead to an inability to access basic needs such as healthcare and insurance coverage, employment and education.

This can prevent individuals from achieving their full potential and the quality of life that they are entitled to.

There are three main ways to address the needs of persons with psychosocial disabilities:

  • Negative media coverage of mental health needs to be challenged.
  • Person-centered health services require healthcare staff who are compassionate and non-judgemental.
  • Involving people with lived experience is essential to changing attitudes and behaviours.

Role of media

Often, there is negative media coverage on mental health needs.

This needs to be challenged in order to reduce the stigma associated with mental health conditions and ensure that affected people get the needful treatment.

The media has the ability to shape our understanding of mental health and can be used to draw attention to issues and increase understanding, however, it can also create a distorted picture by exploiting stereotypes and fear.

Negative portrayal of mental health conditions in the media can perpetuate false ideas, distort the facts and promote stigma rather than understanding.

For example, they may emphasise aggressive behaviour in someone with a mental health condition, while ignoring the person’s other positive traits and the available treatments.

In addition, the media often fails to reflect the fact that one in four people may experience issues related to mental health, reinforcing the idea that it is an uncommon problem.

By challenging these stereotypes and negative perceptions, media outlets can have a positive impact on people’s understanding of mental health and the struggles of those affected.

This could include featuring stories of individuals’ personal experiences with mental health, highlighting the support available and informing the public about the latest research.

Encouraging an open and honest dialogue about mental health through media outlets can help to foster understanding, respect and acceptance of all individuals.

Empathy and non-judgement

Person-centred health services require healthcare staff who are compassionate and non-judgemental in order to ensure that all individuals receive the patient-centred care they need.

Person-centred care strives to create an environment of acceptance and support, where individuals feel safe and secure in their treatment.

Compassionate healthcare staff understand the physical and mental stress that an individual may be going through and provide individualised care and support.

They develop therapeutic relationships based on trust and respect, and are willing to listen to the individual’s needs without judgement or preconceived notions.

This can help to reduce the stigma and fear that people may feel when seeking treatment, and can encourage individuals to be open and honest about their experiences.

Healthcare staff are also expected to provide non-judgemental care i.e. treating everyone with respect and not allowing personal values and beliefs to get in the way of providing care.

Non-judgemental care is particularly important for individuals who have experienced trauma or have been diagnosed with a severe mental health condition, as the healing process can be difficult.

By creating an environment of understanding, empathy and acceptance, healthcare professionals can help individuals to feel safe, secure and supported in their recovery.

The right personnel

Having people with lived experience at the decision-making table can help ensure that no group is overlooked or forgotten.

This helps to foster positive attitudes and behaviours that are needed to create a healthcare environment that is inclusive and accessible.

This could include involving people with lived experience in education and training activities that prepare healthcare staff; sitting on boards and advisory groups; giving feedback on new and existing initiatives; or developing creative ways to engage with hard-to-reach populations.

An example of this initiative is the presence of persons with lived experience in the National Council of Persons with Disabilities and the Mental Health Promotion Advisory Council to the Health minister.

Their participation is essential in making sure that innovative solutions to pressing healthcare challenges created are rooted in the experiences of people with first-hand knowledge of healthcare in their community.

There are several immediate steps that our government can take to ensure that the needs of persons with psychosocial disabilities are met.

These include providing accessible and affordable healthcare services especially out of pocket private mental health care services, through adequate insurance coverage.

Instituting anti-discriminatory policies by employers, improving legislation that promotes the rights of persons with mental health conditions, providing employment opportunities and scaling up inclusive education programmes are other areas of concern.

It is also important to combat the stigma surrounding psychosocial disabilities.

Important steps that can be taken include creating awareness regarding psychosocial disabilities and the discrimination faced by persons with these disabilities, confronting and challenging discriminatory behaviours and conducting sensitivity training for those who are likely to interact with persons with psychosocial disabilities such as healthcare staff and enforcement personnel.

In the spirit of World Zero Discrimination Day, let us commit to breaking down the barriers that persons with psychosocial disabilities face and providing them with the rights and resources they are entitled to.

The world will be a better place if we can create an inclusive society where everyone can be respected, supported and empowered.

Prof Datuk Dr Andrew Mohanraj is a consultant psychiatrist, the Malaysian Mental Health Association president and director of Taylor’s University’s Impact Lab on Mental Health and Wellbeing. For more information, email The information provided is for educational and communication purposes only, and it should not be construed as personal medical advice. The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to the content appearing in this column. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.

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