Group Finds Room for Improvement on Mental Health Stigmas
> 6/7/2007 12:40:36 PM

A decade long study, reveals that although Americans are more knowledgeable about serious mental illnesses, public understanding and comfort with mental disorders still take a back-seat to illnesses like cancer or diabetes.

The study, released by the nonprofit organization Mental Health America, shows that although Americans do recognize and empathize with many mental disorders, they on average, pay more attention to physical disorders.

Speaking to Marketwire, David L. Shern, Ph.D., president and CEO of Mental Health America said:

"It is clear from vast amounts of research and personal experiences that mental illnesses are very serious -- every bit as serious as other illnesses, such as diabetes and cancer. Our nation needs to treat them as such -- through better mental health promotion, increased research and health insurance equity that would enable Americans to get mental health services when and if they need them.”

According to the findings Americans feel more comfortable interacting with individuals who have health conditions, such as diabetes or cancer, than with those receiving treatment for mental health conditions. For example, while 94% feel comfortable interacting with someone with diabetes and 92% are comfortable with someone with cancer. In contrast, 63% felt the same way about someone with depression, 45% for someone with bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, 48% for a person who attempted suicide and 43% for someone struggling with alcohol or drugs.

The group also found that among mental illnesses, nearly a quarter of Americans (22%) see depression as a weakness, followed by bipolar disorder and schizophrenia (7%). Nearly all Americans see cancer (97%) and diabetes (96%) as health problems - not weaknesses.

Although the findings show that opinion has come a long way, it suggests that Americans still feel there is a negative stigma attached to mental disorders; something not true of other disorders. This division, as Shern suggests, needs to be bridged, since there is no such thing as a “cool” or “good” disorder.

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