SINGAPORE: Individuals with mental illness often grapple with stigma or negative public perceptions about their conditions and their struggle can be compounded further through self-imposed stigma.
“Self-imposed stigma is the process by which persons with mental illness accept the negative attitudes of others towards them, then internalise and apply these beliefs to themselves,” said Associate Professor Mythily Subramaniam, director of the Department of Research at the Institute of Mental Health (IMH).
“Examples of self-imposed stigma include endorsement of negative stereotypes held by the public such as ‘I am dangerous’, ‘I am weak’, or ‘I am ashamed that I have a mental illness’,” she said.
Based on an 18-month study on 280 outpatients from IMH suffering from depression, schizophrenia, anxiety or obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), researchers have found that self-imposed stigma may influence the impact of perceived stigma, quality of life, self-esteem and function. The study was published in the scientific journal BMJ Open in August.
Studies have also shown a correlation between self-stigma and the poor outcome in those with mental illness, including difficulties obtaining employment and/or housing, and treatment adherence.
According to IMH, as many as 43.6 per cent of persons with mental illness in Singapore may experience moderate to high levels of self-stigma.
RECOGNISING SELF-IMPOSED STIGMA
As self-stigma is a belief held by the affected individuals, there are no tell-tale signs, said Dr Mythily, who co-authored the study.
“But these beliefs may manifest in the form of self-discrimination such as self-imposed isolation,” he said. Such form of self-discrimination “may lead to withdrawal from academic and social pursuits, decreased healthcare service use, poor outcomes, and poor quality of life”.
One of the ways to manage self-imposed stigma is to instill self-belief in affected individuals that they can achieve their life goals, said Dr Mythily.
"Empowerment also includes instilling a sense of optimism and giving them the belief that they have control over their lives. This is made possible through interventions like cognitive behavioural therapy and group therapy,” she said.
To help raise awareness and reduce stigma about mental health issues in Singapore, 25 healthcare and social service agencies have come together to organise Voice Out. Mandopop singer Stefanie Sun, who will be appearing at this free outdoor concert, will be accompanied by other local artistes who are mental health advocates.
The concert will be accompanied with fringe activities, including therapeutic art and a mass mindfulness session, held at the Singapore Botanic Gardens on Saturday, Oct 7, 4.30pm.