Earlier this week, at the start of their annual meeting, Mental Health America (formerly known as the National Mental Health Association) released findings from an attitude survey they funded last fall. Most of the findings are pretty much what you expect — Americans are a lot more accepting of mental health issues and disorders these days than they were 10 years ago, but such issues still lag behind the acceptance of general health conditions, such as diabetes or cancer.
For instance, Americans are more likely to view mental illnesses and other behavioral health problems as personal or emotional weaknesses — rather than real health problems — more often than they do other illnesses. Specifically, 72% see depression as a “real health problem” versus 97% who view cancer as a “real health problem.”
The real kicker, however, from this survey comes near the bottom of the press release, and that’s how Americans view people with mental health issues — such as depression — when they play important roles in society.
Americans are comfortable having a friend (91%), next-door neighbor (91%) or coworker (68%) with depression, but are less so with having a teacher (39%), romantic partner (47%) or elected official (51%).
The same pattern was evident with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, only more so, as people are only comfortable with someone with this condition as a teacher 20% of the time, as an elected official 29% of the time and as a date 23% of the time.
So it’s okay when your friend or a neighbor has depression, but gosh forbid a teach, romantic partner or elected official suffers from it. Americans are basically saying that they hold certain people or roles in society to a higher standard than ordinary people.
Teachers are supposed to be super-human, not only in their task to teach children who increasingly aren’t taught basic social skills at home, but also not suffer from normal human concerns, like depression or anxiety. Same with politicians, or, naturally, someone we want to have a relationship with. This double-standard is not surprising, as it comes out in every election year, and anytime a teacher is found to have done something troublesome (e.g., something human).
And because people have even less information and experience with people who suffer from bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, their comfort level drops precipitously when asked about these kinds of disorders. Because, you know, these are people who are “crazy.”
Meanwhile, the overwhelming majority of Americans are comfortable having relationships with people with cancer or diabetes. Comfort levels range from 98% as a friend, to 78% for a date.
Can you imagine? Three-quarters of those surveyed are more comfortable with someone who has cancer as a date, compared to only one-quarter who feel comfortable with dating someone who has bipolar disorder.
I think this speaks to our greater comfort levels, in general, with physical things, with things we can see, touch, and know. Emotional things are often much harder to understand, to grasp, to truly know.
Source: MHA Press Release