I cheered a little when I read this op-ed piece in the New York Times today: To fight stigmas, start with treatment
Writes Sally Satel:
Altering public attitudes toward the mentally ill depends largely on whether they receive treatment that works. This, in turn, sets in motion a self-reinforcing momentum: the more that treatment is observed to work, the more it is encouraged.
We see this in some of the more recent trends in treatment promotion: Psychiatric medications are routinely advertised on television. The military is taking meaningful steps to make treatment for combat stress standard. And last fall, President George W. Bush signed a law that prohibits health insurance discrimination against patients with mental illness.Antistigma campaigns are well-meaning but they lack a crucial element. No matter how sympathetic the public may be, attitudes about people with mental illness will inevitably rest upon how much or how little their symptoms set them apart.
We talk a lot about stigma and eating disorders at conferences and meetings, amongst families and professionals. Research has shown that biological explanations of eating disorders help reduce stigma, yet most of the time, people still blame anorexics for their "behavior."
I'm not going to say that the less-than-optimal treatment outcomes, especially for adults with eating disorders, are solely to blame for the stigma against EDs. Eating disorders have a wealth of sociocultural baggage to carry as well. However, Satel raises a good point that isn't often broached when the discussions about stigma arise: we need better treatments. It's too easy to see someone with mental illness as "damaged" or "defective." That their illness is permanent- not to mention that it might be a character flaw instead of a real disease.
If we can start seeing eating disorders as treatable--if we can start actually developing and applying those treatments to sufferers--maybe some of that stigma would start to evaporate.
(Read all of Satel's article- it's worth it.)