The stigma of mental illness

PainMore than a quarter of adults in the U.S. suffer from a diagnosable mental illness in any given year, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. These individuals should visit a doctor or therapist for mental health treatments, and many require regular counseling visits or time off from work to facilitate their recovery.

But, according to the evidence, identifying and seeking treatment for a mental illness can lead to negative consequences.

One systematic review published in the Scandinavian Psychiatry Journal analyzed 16 studies on perceptions of mental illness, and found two major conclusions. In general, public understanding of mental health as a biological problem is improving and more people are willing to accept professional help for its treatment. At the same time, there is an increasing stigma towards those with a mental illness.

Another review published by Cambridge University Press found this stigma associated with mental illness ultimately has a negative economic impact on people diagnosed with these disorders. The review, which includes 30 studies, found that being diagnosed with a mental illness has a negative effect on employment, income, public views about resource allocation and healthcare costs.

The stigma associated with mental illness is clearly a problem in our society. Is there anything we can do about it?  There is some evidence that there are ways to remove the stigma of mental illness.  For adolescents, the evidence shows that education programs are the best way to de-stigmatize mental illness. And for adults, face-to-face contact is the most effective way to reduce discrimination.

The take-home message? Mental illness is pervasive in our society, and it’s a problem made worse by stigmatization and discrimination. But there are programs to improve attitudes toward mental illness, a step that will ultimately improve the lives of those who suffer from mental disorders.

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