Study: The Continued Presence of a Mental Health Stigma

The mental health stigma can force people to hide their problems like this woman here.

Part of our duty as an Orange County mental health team is to advocate for those who are suffering, whether we are working with them directly or not. One of our central messages over time, and one that we’ve stated time and time again, is that mental health challenges are a disease. You can begin to suffer from mental health conditions in the same way you can come down with pneumonia or a viral infection. Understanding this reality will hopefully begin to remove the mental health stigma that has existed almost since the beginning of time.

While the efforts to remove this mental health stigma have been nothing short of noble, it can be difficult to measure overall progress. That’s because mental health challenges can arise in many different forms and contexts, and in too many situations it can be almost impossible to understand when mental health is an underlying cause of a problem or problems. The best thing we can do in these situations is to attempt to measure that progress by way of studying the issue.

Recently, a group of researchers attempted to do just that, and while there were some encouraging signs with regards to the status of the mental health stigma that exists across society, the bottom line is that the results were at-best a mixed bag. We’re going to delve into the particulars of this mental health stigma study below in hopes – as always – that the information helps people obtain a deeper understanding of what people who are dealing with mental health difficulties are going through.

About the Mental Health Stigma Study

The study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in December of 2021. The full text of the study can be found here. Specifically, researchers provided surveys to 4,219 individuals. 2,255 of them were women and the mean age of the respondents was 44.6 years. The respondents were interviewed in 1996, 2006 and 2018.

Those participating were presented with three separate vignettes that dealt with schizophrenia, depression and alcoholism. Some were presented with a control case that constituted only the typical daily troubles that people tend to encounter. The researchers found that during the first period, which was between 1996 and 2006, an increasing number of respondents attributed scientific causes to each of these mental health conditions. The percentages of increase were as follows:

  • Schizophrenia – 11.8 percent
  • Depression – 13 percent
  • Alcohol dependence – 10.9 percent

What this means is that during the first decade of the study, more people began to recognize these problems as medical in nature and not the result of poor choices or character. This was obviously seen as a positive sign.

In 2018, respondents were once again surveyed. The data revealed that the positive trend with regards to mental health stigma seemed to continue with regards to depression. Specifically, the percentage of respondents whose desire for social distance from people experiencing depression decreased by the following percentages in the following settings:

  • The workplace – 18.1 percent
  • Social situations – 16.7 percent
  • Family marriage – 14.3 percent
  • Group homes – 10.4 percent
  • Friendships – 9.7 percent

While it appears that the mental health stigma attached to depression dissipated a bit between 2006 and 2018, the same did not hold true for the other mental health conditions studied throughout the entire course of the study.

Specifically, by 2018, people attributed “dangerousness” to schizophrenia by an increased factor of 15.7 percent. The same respondents attributed “bad character” to alcohol dependence by an increase of 18.2 percent. There were no apparent differences in these percentages when broken down by age, gender or ethnicity, indicating a largely consistent perspective.

Progress, But Still a Lot of Work To Do

In times long past, anyone who was depressed or suffering from conditions such as schizophrenia were not treated properly. We all understand this, and these situations were largely due to an inherent lack of knowledge with regards to mental health. In recent decades and more specifically recent years, we have made enormous advancements with regards to the underlying nature and courses of treatment for people who are suffering in this regard.

That lack of knowledge from years gone by goes a long way towards explaining the mental health stigma that was unfairly attached to people who had mental health diseases. Stigmas are very difficult to eliminate in almost any setting, and any of us could think of at least one that remains even though we know that it is not accurate.

That’s obviously the case with the mental health stigma, as the data above indicate. While we have clearly made progress when it comes to depression, we still seem to have a long way to go with regards to schizophrenia and alcohol dependence. This also indicates that people do not view mental health as a singular issue, but rather they see different mental health diseases from different perspectives. That alone is learning that could be helpful as we continue to push towards a better understanding of what’s happening with people who are struggling.

How SoCal Empowered Can Help

As we mentioned above, we are driven – and will always be driven – to do whatever we can to eliminate the mental health stigma that exists in modern society. This mental health stigma carries with it innumerable harmful effects, including the fact that too many people who are suffering do not get the help they need because they are afraid of being labeled or judged. We will not get a true handle on mental health until we view it through the proper prism collectively.

One thing you can be assured of is that if you contact SoCal Empowered because you or a loved one is suffering, you will NOT be judged. We will simply listen to you with empathy and help you towards a path that will help you regain the happiness in life that you deserve. Given this mental health stigma, you can also rest assured that any communications we have will be kept in the strictness of confidence.

Therefore, if you or someone you love is having problems in this regard, please contact us today so we can begin to help you work through this difficult time.