Sukhera, J., Poleksic, J., Zaheer, J., Pack, R.
Normalising disclosure or reinforcing heroism? An exploratory critical discourse analysis of mental health stigma in medical education
(2022) Medical Education
Introduction: There has been a proliferation of initiatives targeted towards improving psychological wellbeing among medical learners. Yet many learners do not seek assistance due to stigma against help seeking. Understanding the prevailing discourses on the effects of mental health stigma in the context of medical education will improve insight on how to address stigma and improve wellbeing. In this study, the authors sought to explore discourses on stigma in medical education through a Foucauldian Critical Discourse Analysis.
Methods: The authors assembled several sets of texts related to stigma in medical education. The initial archive consisted of social media discourse and was expanded to include digital news media. Next, the authors conducted semi-structured qualitative interviews with medical students, residents and faculty. Using principles of Critical Discourse Analysis informed by the writings of Michel Foucault, the authors analysed the archive to identify truth statements, representative statements and discursive effects.
Results: Analysis revealed an emancipatory discourse of disclosure that normalised help-seeking, which conflicted with a discourse of performance. Results suggested that public disclosure remains challenging in private contexts due to a medical culture that rewards perfectionism and lauds heroism. Discourses on performance positioned disclosure as disruptive to the system’s need to maintain its own hegemony. Overall, stigma was perceived as rooted within the structural power of the medical education system and society at large. Conclusion: Discourses on stigma in medical education hold implications for the teaching, learning and overall wellbeing of medical learners. The tensions between discourses on disclosure and performance have the potential to perpetuate further distress for learners and worsen asymmetries in power. Interventions to address stigma would benefit from understanding and addressing the role of power and hierarchy in maintaining and dismantling stigma.