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Overcoming the labels (fact sheet)

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Minds that matter: Report on the consultation on human rights, mental health and addictions

People are very judgmental and refer to you as “lazy” and “crazy.''' People think we “lack motivation," "if only we'd try harder" or "snap out of" our depression.

- People Advocating for Change through Empowerment (PACE)

Stereotyping involves making assumptions about individuals based on the presumed qualities of the group they belong to. When people stereotype others, they do not see the real person. Throughout the consultation, we heard how people faced a large amount of negative stereotyping, which can lead to discrimination. And we heard about “systemic discrimination,” where institutions developed policies, procedures and decision-making processes that may exclude or marginalize people based on disability.

There are many widely-held stereotypes about people with psychosocial disabilities. One example is that all people with mental illness are violent or unpredictable. In reality, most people are not.

Every time there is an incident and it comes out in the media and they say ”manic depressive” or “bipolar disorder.” It just means now I can’t tell more people.

 – Toronto roundtable participant

Many groups, including CMHA Sudbury-Manitoulin, said that the media play an important role. What they present may perpetuate stereotypes and shape public opinion. CMHA Ontario recommends that the media develop a balanced approach to reporting on mental health, making sure to include the perspectives of consumer/survivors, family members and care providers. It suggests that media refer to the guidelines on responsible media coverage developed by organizations like the Canadian Psychiatric Association and the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.

We also heard many reports of people with mental health issues or addictions facing increased security based on stereotypes. For example, one service provider talked about hospitals that routinely called security personnel to be present if a patient’s files revealed a mental health issue.

Other stereotypes and prejudices about people with mental health issues or addictions included that they:

  • Lack credibility
  • Cannot accurately assess situations
  • Are not able to make decisions about their own lives…/
  • Have brought their problems on themselves, because of “weak moral character”
  • Are not as intelligent as others, or are “less human” than other people.

Physical illnesses may also be seen as more legitimate or deserving of support than psychiatric disabilities or addictions.

We heard that people with addictions are generally seen in a more negative light than people with mental health disabilities. This may be because of assumptions about how much they are personally responsible for their disability, and assumptions about their involvement with crime.

People with schizophrenia or drug addictions may experience particularly negative attitudes from others, based on beliefs about danger, anti-social behaviour or risk.

In Canada and across the world, disclosing a mental health issue or addiction can create a taboo. Because of stereotyping, many people said they were afraid to tell others they had a mental health issue or addiction. Many said that bad things happened when they did tell, including:

  • Being labelled
  • Losing their jobs
  • Losing their housing
  • Being treated unequally in services.

Fears that these kinds of things will happen also result in people not seeking support for a mental health issue or addiction.

We were told public education is needed to dispel stereotypes and teach people about human rights and mental health and addiction issues. One effective way to change negative attitudes about mental health is to have person-to-person contact with consumer/survivors.

But we also heard that education is not enough. To change behaviour and address discrimination, human rights need to be enforced.