Amazingly, many people still do not understand that mental health issues affect most of us in one way or another – in fact – 1 in 5 adults have a mental illness – that’s over 40 million Americans. Mental health in our youth is worsening as well – in 2011 it was 8.5% and in 2014 (the latest data) it was 11.1%. If the growth rate remains consistent, it is safe to say that today’s figure is nearly 20%, if not higher. According to such staggering numbers, even if we don’t personally suffer from a mental illness, the chance is we know someone close to us that does. Therefore, it is our responsibility to understand what mental illness is and what can be done about it.
Despite the increased publicity surrounding mental illness, there is still a lack of understanding. For example, a research survey published, “Attitudes to Mental Illness” (2007), reported 63% of participants described someone who is mentally ill as suffering from schizophrenia. More than half believed that people with mental illness should be kept in psychiatric wards or hospitals. Overall the results showed that positive attitudes towards people with mental illness had actually decreased since 1994 – which is truly disturbing.
Many people with mental health problems will often feel isolated and rejected and too afraid to share their problems with others purely because of the way they might be perceived or judged. This lack of understanding means they are less likely to get the kind of help and support they need and are in danger of slipping even further into depression and mental illness. People need to understand that mental illness need not be a barrier to a better quality of life and that help is available. Most people with a mental health problem can regain full control over their lives if they get the support they need and truly WANT to change.
In September 2007, a national survey of attitudes towards mental health was published and highlighted that people living in socially deprived rural areas have a higher incidence of mental illness, but the level of stigmatization was no lower than in urban areas. This suggests that being confronted with mental illness is not enough to change the attitude towards it. In addition to stigmas, we also have gender differences. According to this survey, men with a mental health problem were more likely to be treated with suspicion than women and were also more inclined to avoid social contact with someone else with a mental health problem. Even out of those who displayed a positive attitude towards people with mental illness, many said they would be reluctant to tell anyone if they had a mental health problem themselves which just goes to show that there is still fear surrounding other people’s perceptions of mental health.
A recent study conducted by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development and KPMG consultants surveyed over 600 employers and reported that medical physicians are not doing enough to help people with mental health problems return to work and are costing the business world billions of dollars. It may be that physicians really do not know what else to offer someone suffering from depression and anxiety other than psychotropic medication and time off work. Even more worrying was the fact that 52% of employers maintained that they never hired anyone with a history of mental illness which serves to perpetuate the mental health stigma. On a more positive note, of those that did hire someone with a mental health problem, more than half said the experience had been “positive”.
How do we change this stigma? Mental illness doesn’t discriminate, it can affect any one of us at any time regardless of our age, gender or social background, and yet the stigma attached to mental illness still persists. Although a number of government initiatives, awareness campaigns and organizations have been set up specifically to tackle mental health stigma and change our attitudes towards mental health in general, there is still a long way to go. Therefore, it is up to each and every one of us as individuals to make sure we are well informed and understand the issues involved because only when the public is fully aware of the facts with anything, will the stigma become a thing of the past.
Depression and anxiety are serious mental health conditions that can strike ANYONE at any time. For more information about depression and anxiety and ways towards self-help, call 606-584-7055 or visit our website – nhcs-ky.com.
Dr. Alicia M. Greene is the Clinical Services Director for New Hope and practicing clinician specializing in trauma and anxiety.