Dr. Heather Stuart
Changing the way people think about mental health
Many people with a mental illness will tell you that the hardest part is not the illness itself, but the stigma. So severe is the stigma that two-thirds of Canadians who experience a mental illness will not seek help. With one in five adult Canadians experiencing some form of mental illness, the stigma can be paralyzing and limit access to proper care and support.
Dr. Heather Stuart, a professor of Community Health and Epidemiology in the Faculty of Health Sciences, has been fighting to reduce the stigma associated with mental illness since the late 1990s. Where, historically, studies of the stigma attached to mental illness focused on the beliefs held by the general public, Dr. Stuart has been working to describe and understand the experience of stigma from the inside – from the perspective of people who have a mental illness and their families – with the goal of reducing the stigma and ensuring that those who experience a mental illness can get the help and support they need.
In February 2012, Bell announced a world’s first: the creation of the Bell Canada Mental Health and Anti-Stigma Research Chair. Dr. Stuart was named the chair holder. As part of their Let’s Talk mental health initiative, Bell’s donation of $1 million over five years will allow Dr. Stuart to focus her research on developing and disseminating best practices to reduce stigma, hire research assistants and bring in experts to speak at conferences, among other activities. Says Dr. Stuart: “We need to change the way people think about mental illness, change the fears and prejudices so those affected will be treated fairly and without stigma.”