Tuesday, 27 April 2010

The stigma of mental health difficulties for students in Higher Education and beyond.

Thanks to Jill Anderson, Senior Project Development Office, Mental Health in Higher Education for this information.

Martin, J.M. (2010) Stigma and student mental health in higher education, Higher Education Research & Development, Volume 29, Issue 3 June 2010 , pages 259 - 274

Stigma is a powerful force in preventing university students with mental health difficulties from gaining access to appropriate support. This paper reports on an exploratory study of university students with mental health difficulties that found most students did not disclose their mental health problems to staff at university. This was primarily due to fear of discrimination during their studies and in professional employment. Many students went to considerable efforts to hide their mental health condition and in doing so struggled to meet university requirements. Of the minority who did disclose, most received helpful assistance with both their studies and management of their mental health condition. The university was the main source of support services including counselling, disability, student union and housing. A range of measures are required to address the impact of stigma and mental health to empower students so that they can disclose in the confidence that they will be treated fairly.


I understand the worry as I faced stigma - even though my mental illness had been 1996/98 when I applied to a supply teaching agency in 2005 I was not allowed to be on their list 'due to my mental health issues' even though I was on a sabbatical from my full-time teaching post! Crazy. I also had had a clean mental health since. Within my full-time post one member of staff always accused me of 'still being mentally unstable' if I objected to any of her decisions! Our house insurance went through the roof because we were honest. And when I had digestive problems around 2000/1 a ward manager told my Mum that as physical tests early on were inconclusive then 'it's obvious - she's at it again - a history of mental illness'!! When my true diagnosis of wheat intolerance solved all my pain I would have loved to have received a written apology from the 'nurse' in question.

It is not surprising that people are reluctant to admit to mental health difficulties when society and bureaucracy judge in such ways.

But please do NOT suffer in silence because your condition will not improve. Fight the stigma. We must challenge these narrow-minded, judgemental bullies and work together to improve mental health and well-being.

Elaine Hanzak


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