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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 our University.

According to the charity Mind, three to five people in every 100 are estimated to be diagnosed with ‘personality disorders’ in the UK, with one to three in every 100 living with ‘schizophrenia’. However the use of such labels, the researchers argue, can create a ‘self-fulfilling prophecy’, which could exacerbate a patient’s conditions and lead to less well targeted treatments and interventions.

It is commonly believed that some  are stigmatising and lead to negative evaluations by the public, family members and even the person with  problems themselves.

Yet, whereas  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 stigmatisation in wider society, but also within the helping professions.

Wrongly judging a book by its cover

The researchers behind two new studies suggest a diagnosis of ‘borderline personality disorder’ may be particularly problematic in this way. A person with a ‘disordered personality’ might be regarded as especially damaged in all areas of life and therefore to be kept at arm’s length due to negative perceptions which exist about the behaviours that tend to accompany such diagnoses.

This is turn might lead clinicians to wrongly assume tendencies and behaviours that may not be present. The researchers suggest this is akin to wrongly judging a book by its cover – offering treatments in response to conditions but not fully taking into account an individual’s specific needs.


– University of Bath

Source: Mental health ‘labels’ can do more harm than good, warn researchers