Experiences of psychosis

Reactions of others and stigma

In this section, people tell us what happened when other people found out about their mental health diagnosis, how they talked about their mental health with others, and how the diagnosis had affected their life. Many initially felt ashamed about their mental health problems, and some families shared this feeling of shame (see also ‘Diagnosis’ in this module). Some people tried to overcome this negative feeling, and a few became proud of themselves and of being diagnosed with conditions like schizophrenia or bipolar affective disorder. Others took pride in their identity as voice hearers and rejected their psychiatric diagnosis.
                                                                            
People told us that there was a particular stigma attached to being diagnosed with schizophrenia. Mary said that other mental health diagnoses like ‘obsessive compulsive disorder’ are more talked about and accepted in society. Some people thought stigma arose from public ignorance, in particular the fear that people with schizophrenia are violent. People worried about the consequences of a diagnosis for them at work: whether they would be treated differently or even sacked. Some felt that the problem was not just one of public ignorance, saying that the psychiatric system and psychiatric diagnosis in particular were to blame by giving them a stigmatising label. One man didn’t like the word ‘stigma’, preferring the term ‘discrimination.’ He felt it was a basic human right to be treated fairly and with respect. Despite many negative reactions, others found that their friends and family were warm and supportive, and they wished they had discussed the issue sooner. However, these people also pointed out that they nonetheless had to be cautious with whom they discussed their diagnosis if they wanted to avoid negative reactions.
 
Telling people
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People found ways of telling people about their diagnosis and experiences. Green Lettuce talked about going to a residential college with other people who had experienced mental health problems, and there could talk freely about his experiences for the first time – others had experienced similar things.
While some people were met with support, others told us of serious consequences when they mentioned their mental health condition. For instance, Arwen wasn’t allowed to work with children and a fellow volunteer told her ‘you ought to be locked up’. Annie had kept the same friends since she had her diagnosis, despite sometimes not feeling well enough to go out.
People often compared mental illness with physical illness. Some felt that people responded differently to physical illness' for example, being more sympathetic or making more effort to be accommodating at work.
 
Some people felt that doctors and other professionals treated them badly when their mental health diagnosis was revealed. For instance, Peter said he didn’t get prompt treatment for appendicitis and a serious pain in his neck because he had mental health problems.
Public awareness
 
Some people had been involved in high profile campaigns/political movements to try to reduce stigma and change how mental health problems were seen by others, including psychiatrists. In general, people have been impressed by the general public’s reaction to mental health issues. Dolly helped organise a festival called ‘Bonkers Fest’ – a summer arts and music festival celebrating madness and creativity – which was highly popular. Others have been involved in training psychiatrists, the police, and other professionals to try and improve their understandings of service-user perspectives. Tim had given talks in schools and colleges, and thinks that people are more understanding about mental health problems than they would have been 30 years ago.
Nevertheless, a few people talked about ongoing and highly negative reactions to mental health problems.
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Naveed had been blacklisted by one side of his family; Rachel said she had come out of hospital to find that her business had collapsed because people didn’t want appointments with her once they found out she had a psychiatric disorder. Colin was nervous about disclosing his mental health problems when applying for jobs for fear of discrimination. He was concerned about the gaps on his CV when he had been in hospital.

All in all, people remained nervous about disclosing they had been treated by mental health services, but were encouraged as a whole by the increasing public awareness and understanding about mental health problems.

Last reviewed July 2017.
Last updated April 2014.

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