People struggling with substance abuse, depression, and a variety of mental health issues live in every city in the United States, yet stigma over their conditions remains. Over the past decade, advocates have been working to overturn mental health stigmas in the U.S. through education and awareness campaigns. For example, increased emphasis has been placed on the fact that addiction is a real illness with both medical and psychological components—not something to be dismissed or judged as a character flaw. But despite this and other pushes for increased awareness, mental health stigma is practically unchanged from a decade ago, according to a new study by Columbia University and Indiana University.
The study, which was funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, gauged people’s awareness of various causes behind mental illness and addiction, alongside their social attitudes toward people dealing with these issues. Between 1996 and 2006, the study finds, awareness of how addiction and depression work improved quite a bit. But people’s attitudes toward sufferers (which are how stigma is measured) did not. Mental health stigma is a serious concern for the mental health community and for American communities in general.
Stigma not only decreases the quality of life for the individual (by impacting job opportunities and social relationships), but also discourages people from seeking treatment. The decision to find a therapist can lead to significant change in a person’s life, but stigma against the condition itself may keep people from admitting they need counseling or other help. Stigma reduction efforts in the past decade have focused largely on mental illness itself—helping people understand what it is and what it does. Instead, this new research indicates, we ought to focus on the people themselves, not simply their condition. Relating to the person, not their problems, is essential to promoting respect for humanity within the context of mental illness and mental health.
© Copyright 2010 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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