Mental Illness Stigma Entrenched in American Culture

society acceptance of mental illness

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.

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  • I think the life those thought to be mentally ill or emotionally disturbed are highly misunderstood and mistreated – even by the psychiatric profession itself. Attempts to limit or regulate behavior and the thoughts and feelings of mentally disabled would not be tolerated amongst people thought to be normal, or who are not labled as social diavants along with societies general attitude that somehow such people if regarded as ‘abnormal’ are bad or must be isolated from public exposure and allowed the freedoms and priveleges of society extended to everybody else.
    I am disabled with a bi-polar diagnois that I think is much misunderstood, and that efforts to make my problem understood by medical professionals by me are largely ignored or discounted as soom misunderstanding on my part dispite the fact that I did not suffer this illness until I was about to graduate from college, unlike many mentally ill I have met that apparently became disabled as teenagers and resulted in becoming school dropouts without jobs skills or work opportunities. I went on dispite my handicap, under the care of a therapist once it became apparent my illness appeared cronic and unlikely to resolve itself, to get four more degrees from a local State University in an effort to make myself competitive in my profession, and not be forced to live on the marginal subsistance offered disabled on present SSI or the oppressive living conditions that most mentally ill are routinely warehoused in when they are unable to provide from themselves – almost always caused by their rejection from the employment market and their treatment as unacceptable by the nations labour market almost across the board. Large lapses in work history due to relapses or long periods of opportunity in the work force, as well as a common condition of inadequate educational preparation to meet the requirements necessary to participate as a competive labours, usually relegates the disabled as a class into neglect, isolation and even abuse by long term care.
    In short the treatment of the mentally ill which are often inappropriately grouped with other individuals considered handicapped or disadvantaged due to a physical or social limitation and which often have possible solutions to their disadvantaged condition not available to some one who essential has developed difficulty with normal thought processes and whose only recourse now available is chemo-therapy and the application of chemicals that may provide relief from some of the symptoms to a large set of the Mental Health population, and yet due to circumstances resulting from the onset of their disablity, now have a large number of accompanying lack of adequately developed social skills shared by almost everyone else in society that further limits their integration into mainstream community, and makes them dependent and helpless at the mercy of care givers whose services large are so inadequate and primative relative to the needs of the community of clients, that once crippled in some way by a mental malfunction, they almost across the board are forced to surrender their freedom and behavioral patterns to the kind of life associated by the destitue and impoverished rejected by mean stream society due to economic shortcomings that are understood to be the result of industrial or commercial adjustments for which the underpriveledged are considered no longer suitible or competitive as a result of personal inadequacy that society no longer considers abler for some reason to participate as a useful member of the working world. In short, almost across the board in this country today, the diagnois of cronic or severe mental disablity automatically results in the individual concerned condemed to a waisted life of neglect and pointlessness for the remainder of the time they are going to live.
    I have twice served for four years on Boards and Commissions charged with community public policy of the Mentally ill, and it was my impression there was almost universal unwillingness to brng to bear the kind of services and attemtion needed by this class of helpless and dependent people in our society and a general inadequate understanding or interest in bringing to bear a much need better treatment, both by the medical profession itself, and other sectors of society responsible for the care of these badly misunderstood and maltreated people. For which there is a long standing history in this culture of the attitude that they must be shut away and denied normal human contact as if they had some how suddenly become unclean and unfit for further contact with anyone in the society. Such feelings have long standing beliefs, and the advent of modern medical practices have done almost nothing to improve their lives or what they can expect out of being born into a situation that made them at least at the begining develop expectations and desires promised by the country as part of todays existence in the modern world. Almost universally if the emotional distrubed routinely subject to this standard treatment after a period of time, would if pressed likely tell you they found their lives as they had come to know them as fellow Americans as a dispointment and generally an unhappy and sorrowful way to have to live, That they in many cases had given up hope and as with the unmeasured accompany higher percentage of suicide and violent outbreaks due to anger about their lives and inablity of find care from those that claim they are there to help
    TIm K. FItzgerald
    PO Box 720933
    San Jose, CA 95112

  • Interesting piece…I think overall that the bar for what is considered mentally ill is definitely beginning to lower. A lot more activity that would have been considered to be characteristic of mental illness has become very normal today. Of course you put a label on it and it drastically throws off the perception. With enough pressure, stress, lack of sleep, finacial hardship, severe depression…just about anyone can easily become a candidate for any mental disorder. Just about everyone will probably ending up needing some type of medication from either dealing with their own life or someone else’s. As they say, there are two types of people in this world..the diagnosed and the undiagnosed.

  • I totally understand what you are trying to get across. It took a lot of courage to write the post that you did. Due to the continuing stigma of mental incapacity, it was courageous of you to relate your own experiences and frustrations, especially being in the midst of a bipolar mania, as evidenced by the length of your post, misspellings and endless sentences. For someone with 5 degrees, you need to write when you’re calmer. That kind of rambling adds to the stigma, although the frustration you feel is understandable. However, your points are well taken. My sister died 16 years ago at least partially due to her being clinically depressed and feeling that she could talk to no one, not even her best friend or family about it. She slowly drank herself to death. I truly believe it was a very slow suicide brought on by undiagnosed clinical depression. She was often quite negative when referring to those who had a mental illness in one form or another. I now believe that to have been a defense mechanism. She may have gotten some serious help and be alive today if there wasn’t the pervasive social stigma associated with having a mental illness. I don’t know what the answer is as far as reducing the stigma of mental illness – more public education, books, articles, seminars, etc?? These have been going on for awhile and haven’t really helped. The best ideas would come from people such as yourself, who are enduring this on a daily basis, and would have a better sense of what would help. Good luck to you.

  • Sad, but true. After my diagnosis with schizo-affective disorder, about half of my family members stopped returning my messages. God damn it, it’s still ME in here!

  • I think your assessment that Timothy…97 is manic is a careless insult! And that you are probably considered normal by society for being so ready to throw an unfounded insult at someone who
    sincerely wants people who are not mentally ill to see “diagnosed people” as talented, gifted and fortunately different. The posts are not going up for publication and to be edited soon. So Why does he ahve to write to your standard his point is made even if it needs editing. Faulkner does not write like hemingway and both had proof and editors. Anyway Merri

    The label “mentally ill” is no nicer to a person and no more helpful than labels like “fat pig,” “boozer” or “habitual liar” “ex-con” or “permantently butt ugly” and ‘four eyes ‘. There are many many normal people falling into those categories!! And please check the history book on how many great americans and artists were considered neurotic. I have seen first hand more cruelty and disrespect displayed toward mental illness and high intelligence from “normal well adjusted dopes with l;ow IQ’s “….100 times more than the other way around.

    Being Mentally ill these days must in some way resemble being Christian 500 years ago. Banned and shunned everywhere. Do us a favor Merri go and be a true and loyal friend to your version of a mentallly ill person that way YOU can make the world a more sane and better place!!!!!!!!

    Ignorance is the coward’s method of attack.

    What do you think Merri?

  • I spent 13 years married to an untreated paranoid schizophrenic. I didn’t find out about this until our 9th year of marriage. He was very good at hiding “himself” and we were both working most of the time, while raising two children. I believed him when he told me that he was doing whatever it was he was doing, I had no reason not to, or so I thought. Then one day, he laid his head in my lap and with tears in his eyes he told me, he couldn’t make the voices stop. I have compassion for him to this day for some things. For some of the other things, he will remain out of my life. I mean no offense to anyone who is emotionally challenged, the thing is, I’m not built to withstand a person like that. He just got progressively worse as time wore on and I could no longer tolerate the situation. I could no longer live with the possibility that he would choose not to take his medication and therefore I might not wake up the next day. I think that’s about as honest an assessment as I can give for that particular situation.

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