Mental Health 'Labels' Can Negatively Impact Treatment of Patients

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Although being diagnosed with a mental illness can often lead to stigmatization of patients, clinicians who treat this population can also be guilty of having the same stigmatization, potentially impacting treatment of patients.

That's the conclusion from researchers at the University of Bath in the United Kingdom, who found that diagnosing patients with labels such as schizophrenia or personality disorder could lead the less effective treatments being used by clinicians. The findings were published in the journals British Journal of Clinical Psychology and Behavioural & Cognitive Psychotherapy.

In their study, the researchers used a video of a person with an anxiety problem and then placed mental health clinicians into groups that differed based on additional background information provided.

Before the video, one group was given simple descriptions about a patient; another was given additional information corresponding to behaviors linked to personality disorders; and a final group was also told that a psychiatrist had previously suggested a diagnosis of personality disorder. The therapists then watched the video and were asked to make an assessment.

Even though the person in the video only had an anxiety disorder, many of the therapists’ analysis of the patient was negatively influenced by the label borderline personality disorder rather than what was seen on the video.

“We know that therapists’ expectations when they first assess patients will influence the later course of treatment,” Paul Salkovskis, PhD, a professor of clinical psychology and applied science said in a statement. “This is why diagnostic labels can be so damaging for a patient as well as ineffective at treating the conditions they exhibit.”

Mental Health 'Labels' Can Negatively Impact Treatment of Patients
In an experiment, researchers found that clinicians assumed behaviors that were not present in diagnosing a patient.

Diagnosing patients with medical labels to describe mental health conditions or severe mental health illnesses such as 'personality disorder' or 'schizophrenia', can have negative impacts on professionals working with them and could lead to less effective treatments being delivered, according to leading clinical psychologists based at the University of Bath.

Yet, whereas previous work mostly assumed those working within the mental health professions would be immune to such beliefs, the latest research published in the journals British Journal of Clinical Psychology and Behavioural & Cognitive Psychotherapy found this not always to be true. According to the research team, labelling patients with these conditions risks not only stigmatization in wider society, but also within the helping professions.

It is commonly believed that some psychiatric diagnoses are stigmatizing and lead to negative evaluations by the public, family members and even the person with mental health problems themselves

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