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Challenging Stigma and Discrimination: The experience of mental health service users in Japan

Naoko Taira, The University of Leeds, Seinan Gakuin University


Mental health service users and survivors (hereafter referred to as users) are seen as 'inferior, undesirable, or threatening' on culturally normative grounds (Meyers, 1994, in Johnstone, 2001). As a consequence, users are generally subjected to systematic disadvantage in most areas of their lives (Thornicroft, 2006b). Although this is a common phenomenon in most Western countries (Thornicroft, 2006a), Kurumatani et al. (2004) report that the level of social rejection is comparatively stronger in Japan. However, some users who were formerly viewed as passive and dependant recipients of medical care and welfare services are now taking active roles not only in their own lives but also in Japanese society as a whole: including user led peer support as well as achieving wider social objectives. Despite a lack of resources they are challenging the mental health system by undertaking research as a means of political action. This presentation documents the findings from a small research project conducted in Japan that explored the issues that flowed from these activities. Key aims included and exploration of users' experiences and the consequences of stigma and discrimination, and the role of collective action when challenging these phenomena. Findings suggest that user groups have a unique role in the challenge to stigma and discrimination on three levels; individual support to challenge internalised oppression; education to challenge ignorance, prejudice and stereotypes; and political action and research to challenge discrimination.

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