View Full Version : Mental health comparison

17-Apr-12, 07:56
Stigma more pronounced in Highlands says study

A NEW study has shown that Highland may be able to learn valuable lessons in reducing the stigma associated with mental health problems by looking at the way services are delivered in a remote and rural area of Canada.
The research project, which compares the experiences of mental health service users in the Highlands with those in rural Alberta, revealed that, while stigma is a problem in both locations, it is more pronounced in the Highlands, where all participants felt stigma was still a problem.
It also showed that stigma can act as a barrier to people accessing services and being accepted in their community.
The study, entitled Mental Health Services and Social Inclusion in Remote and Rural Areas, is being carried out by Clare Daly, who is a PhD student based at the Centre for Rural Health in Inverness.
And it is hoped that the information she has gathered will help to identify ways in which the stigma experienced by people with mental health problems in Highland can be reduced, thus improving their quality of life and encouraging them to use the services that are provided to help and support them.
Ms Daly, who previously worked at New Craigs Hospital in Inverness, said: “Despite current statistics showing that one in four people will be affected by mental health problems, stigma and social exclusion remain a persistent challenge. People with mental health problems experience stigma in many ways, often feeling that others would rather stay away from them because of their illness, which leaves them feeling rejected and isolated."
She continued: “My research explores mental health services in rural areas, within the context of social inclusion. In particular, it looks at the contribution of voluntary sector organisations and their potential in terms of helping to overcome the problems of social exclusion for rural service users. It also incorporates the views of service providers, in order to provide a more comprehensive picture of what the challenges are, both for those who use mental health services and for those who provide them.“
She explained that she had chosen to compare Highland with rural Alberta because both are characterised by remote, isolated communities separated by vast distances and their populations are of a similar size.
Ms Daly visited Canada last year and her research was carried out by holding focus groups with service users attending voluntary organisations at various locations in rural Alberta and in the Highlands. She also interviewed a number of rural mental health professionals involved in mental health service provision.
She said: “Whilst issues such as accessibility and choice were persistent themes in both countries, voluntary groups play a key role in the recovery process for rural service users largely due to their ability to promote autonomy, their focus on person-centred care and their ability to provide time to service users. In addition, voluntary organisations have the potential to play a key role in community development. The findings highlighted their ability to provide a link to other community bodies, thereby sustaining strong community networks and encouraging service users to be more involved in community life.”
Her research showed clear differences between the experiences of participants in Highland and those in Alberta. The vast majority of Canadian participants felt the community was generally accepting of people with mental health problems whereas most rural service users in Highland felt this was not the case for them.
Ms Daly added that, although there were some drawbacks to living in a rural area with a mental health problem, there were also a number of potential benefits, with many people saying they got a general feeling of safety and comfort from knowing more people in their immediate environment.
And she is hoping that her study will encourage greater involvement of the voluntary sector in the Highlands.
Ms Daly is currently writing up her research and will shortly publish a paper on the role of voluntary organisations and social capital, highlighting their potential in relation to stigma and community development. She will also be writing a paper looking at some of the challenges that rural professionals face in trying to deliver services that are responsive to the needs of rural service users in both Highland and Canada.
NHS Highland recently signed the “see me” pledge, in which it committed to work with ‘see me’ to challenge the stigma and discrimination of mental ill-health by taking action as an employer, a service provider and as part of the community.
NHS Highland Consultant in Public Health Medicine, Dr Cameron Stark, said: “Fear of stigma decreases the likelihood that people will talk to others or seek professional help. Mental ill-health can affect anyone and support from family, friends and employers helps support recovery.
“Scottish research suggests that people want to help, but are worried about doing or saying the wrong thing. People don’t become someone else because they experience a mental illness – they are still your child, partner, parent, work colleague or friend.
“Clare Daly’s work encourages us all to think about how we respond to people experiencing mental ill-health and to be there when friends and family need us.”
Anyone wanting to speak to someone about mental health problems should contact Breathing Space on 0800 83 85 87, Samaritans on 08457 90 90 90 or NHS 24 on 08454 24 24 24.