The State of Stigma in 2017
By Mac Klein
Mac Klein received his Bachelor of Science in psychology from Arizona State University and is also a musician.
Research on the stigma towards mental illness shows that most people, starting at a young age, hold negative attitudes towards people with mental illness. These attitudes include stereotypes and perceptions that those with mental illness are dangerous to others. The media fans this flame by characterizing the perpetrators of violent crimes as “mentally ill” without any context or even a legitimate medical diagnosis. Even health care providers and professionals have been shown to hold these stereotypes, and it’s more common than you’d think. Despite this, new research shows that lifetime prevalence of mental illness in the U.S. is very nearly 50%1. This means that maybe mental illness isn’t any more abnormal than mental wellness. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), depression alone is the leading cause of disability in the world. One in four American adults is suffering from a mental health disorder this year. But even though this crisis is so visible in our society, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) states that only 25%2 of those diagnosed with mental illness feel that other people are caring and sympathetic towards persons with mental illness.
Stigma usually rears its ugly head in the form of social distancing. Negative stereotypes generate fear in others, and in turn causes them to avoid people with mental illness. This distance is poisonous to those already struggling with mental illness. It is experienced as social rejection and loneliness, which can have disastrous effects. Loneliness has been shown time and time again to be a predictor of bad health outcomes and even early mortality. Even worse, those with mental illness are perfectly capable of realizing and internalizing this stigma. This creates a so-called “self-stigma” that massively undermines self-esteem and leads to hopelessness. It also causes them to avoid other people and thus self-isolation.
Things appeared to be improving with the introduction of The Affordable Care Act of 2013, which expanded upon the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008, which improved insurance coverage of mental health conditions. However, the new healthcare bill, The American Health Care Act, will likely be a disaster for mental health treatment. Many mental health conditions (as well as other conditions like “cesarean section” or even being a victim of domestic abuse, reported on by the Kaiser Family Foundation in May 2017) will be classified as pre-existing conditions. This could make proper treatment for remediable and preventable conditions too expensive for most Americans to afford. In a country where mood disorders are the 3rd leading cause of hospitalization amongst adults age 18-44, the lack of treatment for mental illness will also have enormous effects on the US economy3. In America, serious mental illness costs $193.2 billion in earnings every year4.
Thankfully, mental health awareness has received a big push in recent years, thanks mostly to social networking. Awareness and education are the most effective ways to combat stereotypes. But the problem is far from solved. It’s up to each of us, especially those in the health care field, to self-educate and be conscious of our biased assumptions about those who struggle with mental illness.
- World Health Organization. Promoting mental health: concepts, emerging evidence, practice (summary report). Geneva, Switzerland: World Health Organization; 2004.
- Attitudes Toward Mental Illness—35 States, District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico, 2007.MMWR 2010;59(20);619–625. Available at http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5920a3.htm.
- Insel, T.R. (2008). Assessing the Economic Costs of Serious Mental Illness. The American Journal of Psychiatry. 165(6), 663-665
- Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, The Department of Health & Human Services. (2009). HCUP Facts and Figures: Statistics on Hospital-based Care in the United States, 2009. Retrieved January 16, 2015, from http://www.hcup-us.ahrq.gov/reports/factsandfigures/2009/pdfs/FF_report_2009.p
If you or someone you know needs help, visit the Jordan Porco Foundation’s resources page.
The opinions expressed in this blog are personal, and not those of the Jordan Porco Foundation. The information in this blog post is provided for general informational purposes only and should not be construed as mental health advice from the individual author or the Jordan Porco Foundation. You should consult a mental health professional for advice regarding your individual situation.