“Stigma is as big a problem as the illness itself,” said Patrick Corrigan, Distinguished Professor of Psychology at the Illinois Institute of Technology. He was speaking about mental illness at a Crain’s summit, The Future of Behavioral Health in New York State, on May 9.

Like racism and sexism, stigmatization of people with mental health and substance use disorders is an issue of “social injustice” that must be ended, said Dr. Corrigan. Using examples from the media and research, he provided evidence that the stigma of mental illness persists in our society today.

Other speakers expanded on how that stigma impacts the way healthcare providers treat patients with behavioral health disorders. Terrell Jones, Outreach and Advocacy Manager at New York Harm Reduction Educators, told a heart-wrenching story of a young woman dying of cancer who was neglected in a hospital emergency room because she had visible track marks. “Medical providers need to understand that we are people too…we have families, kids, daughters and sons,” Mr. Jones, a former drug abuser, told the audience with great emotion. Research has also shown that negative views of people with behavioral health disorders affects healthcare access and quality of care.

To assure quality healthcare for people with behavioral health needs, stigma must be eradicated, and a holistic approach to care is one way to reduce stigma. Speaking as a member of a panel on integrating primary care and behavioral health, Dr. Sabina Lim called such integration “one of the ways in which we can concretely address stigma.” Lim is vice president and chief of strategy in behavioral health at Mount Sinai Health System. Dr. Ian Shaffer, Vice President & Executive Medical Director of Behavioral Health, Healthfirst, advocated treating physical and behavioral health issues in an integrated, comprehensive approach. “Separating out the issues [physical health and emotional health] is a form of stigma,” he asserted—and a barrier to recognizing and addressing the crucial interplay between mental illness and physical health.

But healthcare institutions must go through a cultural shift in order to successfully treat patients’ needs holistically, said Dr. Eric Gayle, NYC regional medical director at The Institute for Family Health. Dr. Gayle, who advocates integrating mental health into the primary care setting, said healthcare facilities need leaders who champion physical health and behavioral health integration, and workers who develop confidence in working with patients with behavioral health diagnoses.

The Labor Management Project offers Mental Health First Aid (MHFA), a one-day training developed by the National Council for Behavioral Health that teaches skills needed help people with mental health problems or crises. Evidence shows that MHFA builds mental health literacy, helping attendees identify, understand, and respond to signs of mental illness. For more information about the LMP’s MHFA training, please contact Janice Dabney, Assistant Director, at (212) 894-4315 or [email protected]

Download a pdf of this article.

Share This