Research watch: is social inclusion for service users increased when mental health professionals “come out” as service users? [2017]

This paper discusses two recent studies of mental health professionals who have experience of mental distress, one in the USA and one in Australia. The purpose of this paper is to highlight different experiences, first of largely concealing their experience, and second of disclosing and using it.

The Australian study examined the barriers experienced by mental health professionals, including trainees, in relation to seeking help. The USA study reported on a sample of mental health professionals who were doing well, including leaders of services, despite current or past mental distress.

Both studies included more psychologists than other mental health professionals. Australian mental health professionals reported similar fears and barriers to those found in other studies, in addition to concern about their colleagues’ duty to report impairment to the regulating body. Professionals in the USA-based study were described as potentially helpful in reducing stigma about mental distress because their achievements demonstrated that recovery is possible. However, many of them were also cautious about who they disclosed to, and wanted further reduction in stigma and discrimination.

The Australian study highlighted specifically that the requirement to report impairment to the regulator deterred people from disclosing distress at work, making it less likely that they would get help. The USA-based study was ground-breaking in documenting achievements of a substantial sample of mental health professionals with experience of mental distress. Potentially more professionals being “out and proud” might help increase recovery and social inclusion for service users more generally.

Sue Holttum

Mental Health and Social Inclusion, Vol. 21 Issue: 2, 2017