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Lesson 8 | Enrichment Activities

Reducing the Stigma of Mental Illness

Stigma in Your School and Community

Student Objectives:

■ Explain concepts of stigma, prejudice, discrimination, and self-discrimination.

■ Identify how public and self-stigma affect individuals.

Estimated time: One 50-minute class period.

Materials: A copy of stigma worksheet of Student Handout (see page 8-5).
Directions: Have students complete the worksheet individually or in small groups.

Suggestions for related activities:

■ Small group discussions of responses on worksheet, with group spokesperson giving summary to whole class.

■ Small groups develop short skits and role-play based on one of the scenarios on the worksheet, to be presented to whole class.

■ Written response to any of these prompts:
Stereotyping in your school or community and how it has impacted you or someone you know.
Prejudice in your school or community and how it has impacted you or someone you know.
Discrimination in your school or community and how it has impacted you or someone you know.
Self-discrimination in your school or community and how it has impacted you or someone you know.

■ Essay writing about a personal experience with stigma.

■ Discuss how students can recognize stigma in their school and community and identify ways they can help address the problem.

Additional Activities

History of Stigma:

Review examples of historical figures with mental illness and how they were treated compared to persons with mental illness today (see examples at People Who Made Real Contributions Despite Mental Illness, at http://www.mentalwellness.com/mask/index.jsp) Discuss whether the self-disclosure of mental health problems by famous persons helps or hurts the public’s perceptions of them.

Research on Stigma:

Have students research local, state, and/or national current events in newspapers or on the Internet for examples of stigma (e.g., community resistance to a halfway house for the mentally ill moving into their neighborhood; difficulty passing laws that require “parity” or equal insurance coverage for physical compared to mental illness or portrayal of criminal perpetrator’s mental illness as being central cause of crime).

The Media and Stigma:

■ Explore and give examples of media portrayals (newspapers, movies, TV) of the mentally ill. How do famous actors and comedians perpetuate or help diminish the stigma of the mentally ill stereotype? Discuss the “good, the bad, and the ugly” of these portrayals (e.g., some idealize and romanticize mental illness, while others demonize it).

■ Make a bulletin board illustrating changes in media portrayals over the last 30 years.
Mental Illness in the Movies:

■ Public opinion about mental illness is in part shaped by the entertainment media. Movie portrayals of mental illness and psychotherapy tend to be inaccurate, simplistic and overly negative treatments of the subject. Therefore, segments of films about mental illness, when viewed with students, can be valuable springboards for class discussion on stigma.

Recommended films:

“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” depicts mental health professionals as controlling and spiteful, demonizes ECT and promotes the notion that treating mental illness violates the free expression of individuality. As a creative work, this is an excellent fi lm, but while it may contain some grains of truth, it distorts many things about treatment of mental illness in a negative and inaccurate way.

“All About Bob” has scenes about depression and the relationship between a patient and his therapist that gets too close for the therapist’s comfort. This film is unrealistic on many points regarding mental illness and the treatment relationship.

“King’s Row” is the story of the early days of psychiatry and how mental patients were treated then, with plenty of examples of stigma. “A Beautiful Mind” is an excellent recent release that shows how serious mental illness, while not being something one can simply will away, can be coped with when a determined individual puts his or her capacity to work to live a full life despite illness. Has some unrealistic or exaggerated elements, but pretty good as most movies go.

“I Never Promised You a Rose Garden,” made in the 1960s, is a movie about schizophrenia based on the story of a real-life sufferer.

“As Good As It Gets” is a recent movie in which Jack Nicholson plays a man who has Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.

“Splendor in the Grass” is a 1960’s film about a high school student with depression and portrays a suicide attempt.

“King of Hearts” gives an unrealistic and stereotyped view of psychiatric inpatients.

“Pollock” is about the life of the painter Jackson Pollock, who battled mental illness. This movie tends to equate mental illness and creativity, an association that is sometimes, but not typically, an accurate one.

“Ordinary People” is an excellent movie that has some of the most realistic portrayals of psychotherapy of any done by Hollywood.

“Sopranos,” the current HBO television series, frequently portrays its main character, Tony Soprano, in psychotherapy sessions with his psychiatrist. Although sometimes inaccurate, most of these portrayals are much more realistic than is often the case with movie or TV depictions of psychotherapy.

Myth Busting:

Discuss the eight myths and corresponding realities about mental illness in the student handout for this lesson. Do Internet research on surveys on public attitudes toward mental illness across cultures. Discuss the implications of this research for the widespread stigma attached to mental illness. Use this information in a group project to devise ways to reduce stigma. For resources, use the following websites:

National Mental Health Association
http://www.nmha.org
(Go to Mental Health Information, Fact Sheet on Mental Health in the Family, Stigma)

The Treatment Advocacy Center
http://www.psychlaws.org
(A nonprofit center dedicated to removing barriers to treatment of serious mental illness)

Monadnock Family Services Center in New Hampshire
http://www.mfs.org (Go to Open Minds: Challenging Stigma and Discrimination)
2000 Public Opinion Survey on Attitudes, Beliefs, Knowledge, and Perceptions about Mental

Illness in South Carolina
http://www.state.sc.us/dmh/textfocus400.htm

A survey of attitudes in Germany towards schizophrenia
http://www.openthedoors.de/pdf/GermanAttitude.pdf

Survey of perceptions and attitudes toward persons with mental illness in Great Britain
http://www.doh.gov.uk/public/mentalillnessreport.pdf

General article on stigma from the Anxiety Disorders Association of America
http://www.adaa.org/aboutADAA/newsletter/2002_stigma.htm

■ Discuss how males and females differ in how they report symptoms of and obtain treatment for mental illness.

■ Have students draw from what they have learned from the Depression Toolkit to write a short essay validating the statement, “Anyone can develop a mental illness.”

■ Present prevalence data for depression and/or mental illness (see Lesson 1 or websites below). Have students calculate the corresponding number of students in their class, school, or community that might be mentally ill or depressed, based on national norms. For instance, if one in eight adolescents is clinically depressed, how many in their class might be? The intent of this exercise is to raise awareness of the fact that depression is a fairly common disorder and that most everyone likely knows one or more persons with depression. The use of math and statistics skills also offers a cross-curriculum benefit.

For statistics on depression, see these websites:
http://www.healthfi nd.org (Do search on depression statistics)

http://www.wrongdiagnosis.com. (Scroll down to Diseases, go to Depression, scroll down to find article on Statistics on Depression)

http://www.about-teen-depression.com/ index.html (Go to Adolescent Depression Statistics)

Sponsored by the UAMS College of Medicine, Department of Psychiatry’s Partners in Behavioral Health Sciences program which is made possible by support from a Science Education Partnership Award (R25 RR15976) from the National Center for Research Resources at the National Institutes of Health.