If you or someone you know suffers from mental illness, it may be disheartening to learn that such conditions still have a stigma attached to them. According to published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, even with a decade of advocacy from policy makers and healthcare professionals, people are as unlikely today as they were 10 years ago to accept those with a mental illnesses as friends, family or coworkers. For example, 74 percent of respondents reported an unwillingness to work with someone who had an alcohol dependency while 69 percent of respondents reported an unwillingness to let someone with schizophrenia marry into the family.
The research compared two studies conducted similarly, but ten years apart, in 1996 and 2006. In face-to-face interviews with researchers, people from across the United States were presented with one of three vignettes that demonstrated schizophrenia, alcoholism or major depression. Respondents were then asked their opinions on three issues related to mental illness.
In good news, results showed a sizable jump in the acceptance of mental illness as a neurobiological disease, from 54 percent in 1996 to 67 percent in 2006 and with a 6 to 13 percent increase across all test indicators. Similarly, a majority of respondents endorsed care for mental illness, with 85 percent of respondents advocating care for those with major depression.
However, public stigma remained high in the 2006 study and relatively unchanged from numbers found in 1996. So while it’s good news that advances have been made to embrace a neurobiological understanding of mental illness and endorse psychiatric treatment, public acceptance rates of people with mental illness show little improvement.
This comprehensive study showed that 10 years of public education on the causes of mental illness did not necessarily translate to reduced public stigma. Public opinion on mental illness has wide-reaching implications for policy, funding and treatment options, so these findings will impact the next phase of public discourse on mental illness.