'Mental health professionals not free of prejudice'
Israeli psychology researcher finds many professionals stigmatize psychiatric patients more than the general public does.
By JPOST.COM STAFF
Many mental health professionals stigmatize psychiatric patients and view their prognosis with more pessimism than the general public does because the professionals deal with the most serious cases, according to an Israeli psychology researcher doing her post-doctoral work at the University of Boston.
Dr. Galia Moran made this surprising assertion at the Health Ministry's annual conference on mental health, which was held Tuesday at the Jerusalem International Convention Center and whose theme was minimizing the stigma faced by people with psychiatric disorders.
It was attended by more than 850 professionals, family members and recovering patients, some of whom have been trained to rehabilitate other patients in clinics and other settings run by a variety of organizations.
Moran said that thanks to new medications and other treatments, more than half of all people with serious mental disorders recover - and, after a few years, are even able to function well, including finding employment or doing volunteer work. The common view of people who with mental illness being violent and dangerous is obsolete, Moran said, and "it would help if the Israel Police issued a statement that violence is much more common among the general population than among recovering psychiatric patients."
The University of Boston researcher blamed much of the print and electronic media for stressing a negative and sensational view of people with mental disorders rather than one showing that those who recover and are rehabilitated can live satisfying lives.
Throughout the conference, it was stressed that it is degrading for them to be called "mental patients" or similar terms and that instead, they prefer to be referred to as mitmodedim (people who cope) or tzorchanim (consumers). Many consumers of psychiatric services suffer from "self stigma" in which they believe the prevalent notions about them and are passive rather than eager to become empowered and live normal lives, she said. But when public opinion surveys are conducted, the term "mental patients" has to be used or those queried would not know what is being asked, Moran said.
She added that people who suffer from psychiatric illness and are not adequately treated live 25 years less than the average "normal" person and are more likely to suffer from chronic diseases such as hypertension and diabetes.
Over the past decade or so, responsibility for their rehabilitation has moved from the Health Ministry and psychiatric hospitals to voluntary and other organizations in the community that provide supervised hostels for coping and training for finding and succeeding in jobs. But Avi Oren, an activist on behalf of "consumers," bemoaned that the funds available are inadequate and that some services and facilities are closing.
Yehiel Shereshevsky, the Health Ministry professional in charge of rehabilitation efforts, said that even some senior government officials and bureaucrats stigmatize patients, because they are part of the general culture. He reported on a study of 1,500 Israeli adults, 72 percent of whom would refuse to have a boss who suffers from a mental disorder; 31% would refuse to be his neighbor, 35% would oppose working with him, and 34% would refuse to be a close friend to whom he would reveal secrets. But stigma is less common among younger people, which is a cause of some optimism.
Rehabilitated patients reported on Project Dialogue, in which they held meetings around the country with the general public and told their personal stories. Twenty of them have already held more than 180 meetings with more than 5,000 people.
A feature on the conference will appear on the December 21 Health Page.
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