Two stories published in the past week by our news team gives me reason to be a little pessimistic about the gains we’ve made in terms of educating folks about mental health concerns.
The first article entitled, Depression Stigma Higher in Medical Students, examined mental health attitudes amongst medical students — you know, those folks who should be the most open-minded about these disorders that have significant roots in the brain. Of course, from the title of the article, you already know the study’s findings.
In a survey of 505 medical students, researchers found that not only do the future doctors have higher rates of depression than in the general population (not surprising, given the stress of medical school), but they have something a little less expected — higher rates of stigma about depression too.
The results also revealed that 53.3 percent of medical students who reported high levels of depressive symptoms were worried that revealing their illness would be risky. Almost 62 percent of the same students said asking for help would mean the student’s coping skills were inadequate.
The second article, published yesterday, suggests that Stigma for Mental Illness High, Possibly Worsening. How could this be? Educators and mental health advocates have had 15 years of reaching millions of people through the Internet, something never before available in the history of humankind.
The results of this study showed that while more people are understanding that there may be neurobiological causes of mental disorders, we’re still a long way off from removing the prejudice and discrimination that accompanies a mental disorder diagnosis:
However, the results show that although believing in neurobiological causes for these disorders increased support for professional treatment, it did nothing to alleviate stigma. The results show that, in fact, the effect increased community rejection of the person described in the vignettes.
Pescosolido said the study provides real data for the first time on whether the “landscape” is changing for people with mental illness. The negative results support recent talk by influential institutions, including the Carter Center, about how a new approach is needed for the fight against stigma.
What’s the big deal about stigma? So what if people are discriminated against because of their diagnosis?
Well, for one, the stigma keeps people away from seeking treatment. If you’re afraid of how your family, friends or coworkers might react to a psychiatric diagnosis, you’re far less motivated to actually seek out help to get the diagnosis (and the accompanying treatment) in the first place.
And if prejudice and ignorance weren’t enough, people with such diagnoses still face discrimination — in employment, housing, medical care and social relationships.
It’s hard to fight the stigma of mental illness when health professionals still act in a way that shows they are happy to carry on the misconceptions and mis-perceptions about people with depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, PTSD, schizophrenia or some other mental disorder. And it’s a bit depressing to see how a decade’s worth of education, information and social networking online have seemingly just moved the needle only a tad in defeating the ignorance surrounding mental disorders.
Here’s to hoping the next decade sees a far greater and more positive impact.