In this essay an attempt will be made to discuss the concept of discrimination in relation to physical disability and mental ill health. There has been very little research published that in cooperated both disorders. Most information available is regarding the law. The history of mental illness, physical disability and discrimination will be analysed to increase understanding and definitions will be given for each of the terms. The stigma attached to both disorders will also be examined in detail.
According to the Law, mental illness is described as physical dysfunction of the brain. This causes a condition which severely impairs, either temporarily or permanently; the mental functioning of a person. Physical disability is a total or partial lost of bodily functions which substantially limit major life activities.
The term to `discriminate' means to distinguish between or to differentiate, positively or negatively, between people or things. Discrimination in the negative form is usually illegal. For example discrimination against people as they belong to a particular group, such as the mentally ill, disabled or those who belong to a different race. Discrimination can be direct or indirect. When a person is treated less favourably as a result of their intellect or disability is an example of direct discrimination. Rules or requirements that concern everyone but act in an unfair treatment of certain people are direct discrimination Marion (1992). Discrimination according to Baron and Byrne (2004) is negative behaviours directed towards members of social groups who are the object of prejudice.
In previous years mental illness and physical disabilities were not understood and the lack of knowledge resulted in discrimination and attachment of stigmas. In particular, those who were classed as mental illness often faced abuse and even exclusion from society. People thought the condition resulted from possession of evil spirits and people began to fear those with mental ill health. In later years hospitals opened to help those with mental illness but it was thought to be less treatable than physical illness hence treatments were unsuitable and many patients were overlooked. Those with mental ill health were not given the same rights and support than if they had a physical illness. Some received support from their families, many were unaided.
According to Corrigan, Rowan, Green, Lundin, River, Uphoff-Wasowski, White, Kubiak. (2002) public awareness about mental illness has increased over the past 30 years; however this increase has not helped to reduce the level of discrimination. Today it is widely accepted that about one person in four will experience a mental illness at some point in their lifetime but yet again research by Corrigan et al. shows that those people who are mentally ill are less likely to be hired, leased apartments or interacted with by members of the public.
In the journal for mental health, Penn and Wykes (2003) stated that there is evidence of less favourable social interactions, discrimination in work opportunities and housing as well as there access to health care. Discrimination is the consequence of lack of knowledge about mentally ill. Opportunities provided to people with mental ill health are diminished as a result of false perceptions that these people are dangerous and lack personal responsibility. It is sometimes thought that `Sufferers are personally responsible for negative events resulting in their condition.' Corrigan et al (2004). There are some public views that symptoms of these disorders are wilful, offensive behaviours. Angermeyer and Matschinger (1996) cited in Abnormal Psychology. This creates intolerance and even fear towards the person with mental ill health.
Fink and Tasman (1992) cited in Abnormal Psychology suggests that stigma is one burdensome aspect of mental illness. National statistics for attitudes to mental illness (2003) have shown that when people were asked `Are people with mental illness a burden on society?' nearly a quarter agreed they were a burden. The true figure is probably even greater when social desirability is accounted for.
Individuals and families struggle to deal with mental illness and the stigma attached to it just amplifies the problem. The media strengthens this stigma with its stories that are based on a minority of people who are severely mentally ill. The media has classed all types of mental illness the same which means the general public do not differentiate either. Most individuals with mental illness never show aggressive behaviour and even fewer would manifest aggressive behaviour if treatment were more readily accessible according to Seligman, Walker and Rosenhan (2001).
Stigma keeps people who need treatment from seeking it which in turn increases the risk of the disorder getting worse. Penn et al (2003) also explains that discrimination has a negative worsening effect on ill health. Moreover it may have contributed to the onset of the illness itself. The result of the stigma attached to the mental health services is a further effect of discrimination. Those that want to seek help are hindered from doing so as a result of this stigma. `This may lead to further delay prior to initial treatment that then has an effect on the long term recovery rates in psychosis particularly symptoms.' Orman & Malla (2001) cited in Journal of Mental Health.
Ahrens (1993) claims that many citizens would protest outside new facilities for the mentally ill. It is rarely seen when a facility is providing facilities for those with physical disabilities. Nevertheless people with physical disabilities experience discrimination in a series of areas as well. These physical disabilities may have arisen from birth compared to mental ill health which may only last a short time. The physical disability like mental illness may have resulted from contracting a disease or through sustaining injury. Those who are confined to a wheel chair face discrimination in areas such as education employment and promotion without appropriate support mechanisms. They need to be able to gain access to the buildings. Disabled students may need extra help from specialised teachers. This becomes difficult if they live in rural areas where these facilities are not available. The appropriate curriculum would also be required and this is problematic as schools generally specialise in those areas.
The Disability Discrimination Act 1992 was recognized to counteract these problems. The disability discrimination act 1992 (cwlth) states that disability discrimination has taken place if, as a result of a person's disability, someone else treats them or proposes to treat them less positively than the discriminator would treat a person without a disability in the similar situation.
Both the mentally ill and physically disabled have faced discrimination in the work place for instance if their application is unsuccessful, they will not challenge the employer to find out why as they lack the confidence or social skills to do so.
Corrigan, P.W.; Lundin, R,; River, p.; Uphoff-Wasowski,K; Kubiak, M.A.; Kyle, C.J.; Mathisen, J.; Goldstein, H.; Berman, M.; Gagnon, C.(2000). Carried out research that views would vary across different disability groups. Corrigan et al (2000) found that persons with psychotic disorders were viewed as being more in control of their disorder; whereas, those with mental retardation will be viewed as having a more stable and worse prognosis. Results also suggested that participants would clearly discriminate among those with mental health disabilities than those with physical disabilities, especially if the person with mental illness had cocaine addiction.
Penny, Kasar and Sinay (2001) investigated the attitudes of Occupational Therapists towards persons with mental ill health and compared this to their attitudes on people physical disabilities. The findings indicated that attitudes towards people with mental illness were less favourable than against those with physical disabilities. Field work experience, involving contact with persons with a mental illness; improved attitudes towards the mentally ill. However coursework was the most effective in achieving more favourable attitudes.
In conclusion it is apparent that all levels of society show discrimination against people with mental illnesses and physical disabilities. This increases pressure on families and sufferers themselves making it even harder to cope. Discrimination against those with mental ill health is on the increase despite research showing knowledge about the disorders has increased. The stigma attached to mental illness is greater than that for physical disabilities.
People with physical disabilities are still discriminated against but not as much as in previous years. This has mainly resulted from the establishment of the Disability Discrimination Act. Society cannot continue to discriminate openly towards people with physical disabilities as it has consequences. As the discrimination decreases, so will the stigma attached to those who are physically disabled.
Those who are classed as having poor mental ill health still face increasing discrimination. Research has shown that the way forward for diminishing stigma and reducing negative discrimination is by educating people on the issues. Schools and Universities can do their part by doing more coursework on the subject. The media can also do there part in giving more factual information and doing more stories on the lives of those with physical disabilities and mental ill health.