hospitalThe stigma of mental health issues remains a key factor in people not accessing the care they need, according to new research.

The study by King’s College London, published in Psychological Medicine, brings together data from 144 studies, including more than 90,000 participants worldwide. It looked at the effect of stigma on how individuals with mental health problems accessed and engaged with formal services, including GPs, specialist mental health services and talking therapies.

The main types of stigma preventing people from accessing care were ‘treatment stigma’ – the stigma associated with using mental health services or receiving mental health treatment – and ‘internalised stigma’, which includes shame and embarrassment. Other important barriers preventing people seeking help were fear of disclosing a mental health condition, concerns about confidentiality, wanting to handle the problem on one’s own, and not believing they needed help.

Further reading: One in 10 experience daily mental health stigma, survey finds

In addition, the study found that stigma had an even stronger effect on young people, men, people from minority ethnic groups and those in the military and health professions.
Professor Graham Thornicroft, from the Institute of Psychiatry (IoP) at King’s College London and senior author of the paper, said: “We now have clear evidence that stigma has a toxic effect by preventing people seeking help for mental health problems. The profound reluctance to be “a mental health patient” means people will put off seeing a doctor for months, years, or even at all, which in turn delays their recovery.”

Dr Sarah Clement, from the IoP and lead author of the paper, added: “Our study clearly demonstrates that mental health stigma plays an important role in preventing people from accessing treatment. We found that the fear of disclosing a mental health condition was a particularly common barrier. Supporting people to talk about their mental health problems, for example through anti-stigma campaigns, may mean they are more likely to seek help.”