“I want my life back”, grida Britney Spears before the judges of Los Angeles, tired of the legal protection that for 13 years has subjected all her actions to the protection of her father Jamie, tried by the consequences of the mental distress hatched deep inside – between therapies, hospitalizations and rehab – beyond the glitter of the stage. When in 2007, after a nervous breakdown, the singer was photographed with shaved hair while lashing out at the paparazzi in the street, she was labeled “crazy”, “out of her mind”, “out of control”: words repeated endlessly, giving life to a cruel and superficial narrative in which the stigma towards mental health has dominated.
In front of Judge Brenda Penny, Britney Spears has expressed the pain she has caused for years conservatorship and the spectacularization (as well as the marginalization) of his discomfort in the media. “What has Britney lost? The hair! ”, Answered a contestant in a quiz on US TV at the time breakdown of the artist. “The pitcher!” Was the reply of another competitor. Viewed from this angle, the artist’s story demonstrates how our society is still unable to look at mental illness without prejudice.
Even today, some diagnoses and the behaviors that accompany them awaken negative and rejection attitudes in people, without there being an authentic knowledge of the problem. In fact, there is little or incorrect talk of mental health. Yet the question is of collective interest: even restricting the discussion to the sole Italian estimates, one in four people each year experience a mental health problem.
“Unfortunately, psychiatric disorders are still accompanied by a profound stigma. In the past it was a prejudice more linked to treatment, to structures such as psychiatric hospitals, at the time known as ‘asylums’. In Italy, thanks to Law 180, therapies have changed for decades and patients have been given back, by us doctors and institutions, an identity “, says Dr. Stefania Calapai, Director of the Social Health Association to the HuffPost. Blue Angel Onlus and founder of the A-Head project against the stigma of mental illness.
“The new psychiatry, in addition to relying on modern and effective drugs even in the most serious cases, is based on rehabilitation, therapeutic communities and social reintegration”, emphasizes Dr. Calapai, who however highlights how, despite the efforts of doctors and institutions, prejudice persists on a social level. The specialist emphasizes that “the fight against stigma is possible through correct information” since “psychiatric illness often frightens precisely because it is not known. Very often bad information, above all concerning sad news stories, leads to erroneously ‘schematizing’ the psychiatric patient as a violent subject “.
Furthermore, going beyond the stigma would allow sufferers to access treatment earlier and better. “In its mild forms, such as anxiety, mental distress can affect a great many people. And the pandemic has seen a dramatic increase in psychiatric-related cases. Only if you are properly informed and talked about it can the problem be addressed. Asking for help right away makes it easier to have a favorable prognosis, ”says Dr. Calapai.
The recovery paths are also very important. The specialist highlights the role played by rehabilitation, especially as regards the most serious patients: “The patient can be assisted at home, in residential or semi-residential structures, in therapeutic communities that constitute a real family. What matters is not to leave room for isolation, to bring people closer to daily activities, to allow them to open up again to the world with the consequent reintegration “.
“Do not hide, accept treatments, inform, speak correctly about mental health: these are the keys to fighting stigma” says Dr. Calapai, who concludes: “It would be essential to involve schools as well to educate young people on the subject. It is important to remember that psychic pathologies can be cured, or at least greatly improved ”.