A nationwide report released by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) titled “Attitudes toward Mental Illness: Results from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System,” finds that most Americans believe that mental health treatment works in helping restore people to normal lives, with the impact strongest where treatment is most available.
Unfortunately, however, the same study found that only a minority of Americans believe that the public is truly caring and sympathetic toward those with mental illnesses. This finding is important because, according to Ron Manderscheid, Executive Director of the National Association of County Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities Directors (NACBHDD), “Negative attitudes about mental illness often underlie stigma, which can cause affected persons to deny symptoms; delay treatment; be excluded from employment, housing, or relationships; and interfere with recovery.”
Manderscheid adds that, “State-level information about stigma, like that provided in the report, is critical so that appropriate population and community stigma-reduction interventions can be targeted more appropriately.” Completion of the study was announced on November 2 at the conclusion of the 28th Rosalynn Carter Symposium on Mental Health Policy, which focused this year on the topic of reducing stigma and promoting social inclusion of the mentally ill.
Key report findings
The report, which contains results for all US states, presents the following major findings:
- Most adults (>80%) agreed that treatment can help people living with mental illness lead normal lives. Among the related findings are these:
o When states spent more money per person for mental health services, fewer adults disagreed that treatment could help people with mental illness lead normal lives.
o The more money per person that States spent on their mental health agencies, the more likely that adults needing mental health treatment received that treatment.
o Adults who reported receiving mental health treatment more often strongly agreed that treatment is effective (e.g., Colorado; Hawaii; Kansas, New Hampshire, Texas).
o Some population subgroups (e.g., non-Hispanic blacks, Hispanics, those with less than a high school education) in some states more often strongly disagreed that treatment is effective (e.g., Georgia; California; Massachusetts; Washington).
2. Fewer adults (35–67%) agreed that other people are caring and sympathetic to those living with mental illness. Among the related findings are these:
o In states with more young adults (18-24 years) and more donated media time for the What a Difference a Friend Makes Campaign, adults more often agreed that people are caring and sympathetic to people with mental illness.
o Adults with mental illness symptoms (like those with serious psychological distress or frequent mental distress) more often strongly disagreed that people are generally caring and sympathetic to people with mental illness.
o Adults currently receiving treatment for a mental illness or an emotional problem more often strongly disagreed that people are generally caring and sympathetic to people with mental illness.
o Adults in areas with fewer mental health professionals more often disagreed that people are caring and sympathetic to people with mental illness.
o Adults living with chronic conditions (e.g., arthritis, heart disease, asthma) more often than adults without these conditions strongly disagreed that people are generally caring and sympathetic to those with mental illness.
o In some states, women, adults unable to work or unemployed, adults in households earning <$20,000/year, and adults with less than a high school education more often strongly disagreed that people are caring and sympathetic to people with mental illness (e.g., Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, Montana, Wisconsin).
“The findings from this study offer federal and state decision-makers and other key stakeholders important insights about the public’s attitudes toward mental illness,” Manderscheid explains. “They also inform us how these attitudes vary among different groups of people, and whether resources made available by states make a difference in these attitudes.”
He goes onto suggest that states, counties, and local communities can work with public health and mental health providers, as well as other stakeholders, to support needed mental health and mental health awareness programs. Over time, he suggests that these local entities can monitor improvements in public attitudes and support for those recovering from mental illness.