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Stigma in labels – Precise diagnosis versus shame

Posted on 09-17-15 in Behavioral Health, Mental Health

Stigma in labels – Precise diagnosis versus shame

Mental health advancements have done wonders for therapists trying to accurately pin down diagnoses for people in need of help. Understanding and classifying mental illnesses is indeed helpful for treatment, but such broad labels for a unique set of needs could do harm to individuals simply trying to live normal lives.

“We know that therapists’ expectations when they first assess patients will influence the later course of treatment. This is why diagnostic labels can be so damaging for a patient as well as ineffective at treating the conditions they exhibit,” said Professor of Clinical Psychology and Applied Science at Bath, Paul Salkovskis.

Salkovskis encourages mental health professionals to remain mindful of using labels with patients and remember the impact of social stigma these patients often face in the public eye.

Studies published in the British Journal of Clinical Psychology and Behavioral & Cognitive Psychotherapy found therapists not immune to presenting prejudice either, contrary to previous studies’ findings. The researchers for these studies found the diagnosis of borderline personality disorder particularly problematic, as it has a potential to harm every part of the patient’s life. The implication could put some mental health professionals on the defensive rather than remaining open to empathetic interactions.

There is also something reductionist about diagnoses as a few words can’t say everything about a person, even if the mental illness in question is fairly powerful. A controlled experiment found this to be true after showing a video of someone with a typical anxiety disorder to different groups of mental health professionals. The different groups were given varying background information on the patient in the video. The group told that the person had borderline personality disorder was negatively influenced by the false knowledge rather than depending only on the information of the anxiety itself.

Stigma against mental health patients should not be underestimated, according to research from Patrick W. Corrigan, Benjamin G. Druss and Deborah A. Perlick, writing for the Association for Psychological Science. Publicly, those with mental illnesses can be presumed dangerous and unfit for work, school and social situations. With enough reinforcement, some of these patients can internalize the fear, setting back possible treatment for the ill.

Sovereign Health Group is ready to take on mental illness in patients, fighting stigma and treating the sick as human beings rather than just representatives of their problems. Get started on a new path of mental health by calling us at any time.

Written by Nicholas Ruiz, Sovereign Health Group writer