“Experiences with discrimination of people with a severe mental disorder represent approximately 60% of the people who admit having suffered some sort of discrimination”

We have interviewed Hernan Sampietro, social psychologist, CEO and secretary at ActivaMent Catalunya Associació, and Secretary at Federació Veus and Vice President at Obertament.

• What patient needs are not covered by the current health system?

First of all, there is an information need to understand the diagnosis. When a person is diagnosed with a mental health problem, together with this new label they also get the load of social prejudices that come with it, which they have absorbed throughout their lives from the media and society. A person diagnosed with a severe mental disorder, with schizophrenia or a bipolar disorder, suffers an identity crisis; they don’t recognize themselves and fear what they might be able to do or feel.

• When it comes to mental health, women suffer a double discrimination. How can the situation be reversed?

Experiences with discrimination of people with a severe mental disorder represent approximately 60% of the people who admit having suffered some sort of discrimination. There aren’t quantitative differences in the proportion of people of different gender. A specific example has to do with the work sphere, where there is an obvious discrimination. In the case of mental health, the unemployment rates triple the general population. A recent study suggests that 85% of the people with several mental illness who are not disabled to work don’t have a job.
One of the things which we work on has a lot to do with the empowerment processes of encouraging people to participate in associative movements of diagnosed people. We are asking feminist collectives to help identify the reasons why despite half of the members being women, those working actively and in positions of responsibility in the fight for their rights are mostly men.

• How can we break the stigma of the diagnosis?

By realising that it exists. This means that it unconsciously manifests itself. Becoming aware of the language we use is essential. By using labels as proper names, saying “the schizophrenics” or “the mentally-ill people”, we are transforming a label that is only supposed to help treat a mental health illness into into an essential part of who that person is.
People are very diverse, whether or not we share a label: two people with the same diagnosis can be absolutely different or two people with different labels can resemble very closely. On the professional’s side, the stigma is unconsciously perpetuated by not explaining patients the meaning of their diagnoses.

• Can integrated health care help reduce these problems?

It is a way to do it, one of the many we have to change the stigma and self-stigma situations that we perpetuate. It is a model that understands that we are more than a body, a model that understands that the physical condition of a person and the discrimination they experience have an impact on their quality of life, there are socio-economic aspects of having been diagnosed. Understanding that a person is quite complex and that it must be understood in all his or her dimensions is a way to fight the stigma.