Tackling the Taboo – Why We Need to De-Stigmatise the Conversation

by | Feb 7, 2022 | Health & Wellbeing | 0 comments

Back in 2009, The Guardian released an article discussing the findings of a study into stigma commissioned by the Time to Change campaign.

The study found that people were more reluctant to reveal they have a mental health condition than to come out as gay, reveal a drinking problem or tell others they’ve gone bankrupt1.

The same study found that fewer than 4 in 10 employers would be willing to employ someone with a mental health condition, whilst a third of the respondents believed someone with a mental health condition couldn’t do a responsible job. 

What has changed since then?

Whilst investment in mental health programmes in workplaces has increased considerably over the past few years, there is still a considerable gap caused by what are perceived to be the more ‘acceptable’ aspects of mental health to discuss.

Bupa UK found that baby-boomers (the generation of those aged 55+) were shown to be the age group most likely to delay, or avoid, seeking medical help for mental health symptoms2.

The main contributor to this statistic was the lack of targeted materials about the range of mental health conditions, particularly towards the older generation. 

The main barrier

Discussions around mental health have increased considerably – there’s no doubt about that.

What is often missed, however, is the role of intersectionality.

Take a look at these statistics from Mind3:

  • LGBTQ+ individuals are between 2-3 times likelier to report having a mental health problem than heterosexual people.
  • 23% of Black or Black British people will experience a common mental health problem in any given week, compared to 17% of White British people.
  • 40% of people in England who have overlapping problems, such as homelessness, substance misuse and contact with the criminal justice system in any given year also have a mental health problem.

Whilst discussions have been developing and adapting around more mainstream topics of mental health such as depression and anxiety, other topics such as suicide or discourse around specific conditions like schizophrenia, are far less normalised.

This isn’t even including the wellbeing/mental health aspects of topics such as women’s health, substance misuse and LGBTQ+ facets of wellbeing such as those who are undergoing transition. 

The variation in stigma

Though schizophrenia affects over 21 million people worldwide, it is still tied to a negative and damaging public perception – schizophrenia is viewed and portrayed in the media as a dangerous, untreatable and detrimental condition.

As an example, how many times have you seen a representation of schizophrenia in the media portraying visual hallucinations?

In reality, between 60% and 80% of people with schizophrenia experience auditory hallucinations, with an even smaller number experiencing visual hallucinations.

The disparities don’t stop there, either, as it’s not just media that perpetuates false stereotypes and negative associations, but the conversations we have around certain topics, too.

There are certain topics that remain out of reach, perpetuating feelings of shame and guilt for those who wish to seek advice and help.

Areas of women’s health such as periods, fertility and menopause are frequently stigmatised in society as a result of these attitudes.

Though up to 1 in 4 pregnancies end in miscarriage, the subject is still full of shame as it encompasses the taboo topics of reproductive health and mental health.

This stigma around women’s health is so great that endometriosis has an average diagnosis time of eight years – in combination with the sad fact that women’s health is vastly under-funded, under-represented and under-researched.

Long story short? There’s still a lot of work to do across the board. 

How do things change?

Part of the inspiration behind the events we run for the Simply-People community is to tackle more of the non-conventional topics.

From inclusion in the workplace to Long Covid, our aim has always been to ensure that in the wellbeing and Occupational Health space, topics aren’t left out of the discussion.

Avoiding discussions around the topics that society deems less acceptable doesn’t just leave people to deal with their struggles privately – it cuts them off from their support network, makes them feel invisible and invalidates their experience entirely.

We want to be able to lead a community that values each individual for the diversity they bring to the table, because by growing a diverse network, we increase our understanding and awareness of topics that are so often brushed under the rug. 

It starts with us

Part of what helps stigma to thrive is our aversion to speaking about taboo subjects.

Whether it’s men feeling unable to speak about their own mental health to other men, women being uncertain about broaching the topic of their health with others, or a societal difficulty to give mental health the nuance deserves – tackling the taboo around mental health requires us to de-stigmatise the way we talk about it.

Our community at Simply-People is a network of diverse practitioners who are passionate about improving the physical and mental health and wellbeing of employees in the workplace.

If you’d like to join, please click here


1 https://www.theguardian.com/society/2009/feb/20/mental-health-taboo

2 https://www.bupa.com/newsroom/news/baby-boomers-brushing-off-mental-health-issues

3 https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/statistics-and-facts-about-mental-health/how-common-are-mental-health-problems/

4 https://www.verywellmind.com/mental-health-stigmas-in-mass-media-4153888

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