Despite Mental Illness Anti-Stigma Campaigns, Stigma Remains A Constant

The American Journal of Psychiatry has its biases, no doubt, but sometimes it just can’t ignore the results of its own studies. One of those studies that has appeared in the AJP was featured recently on an National Public Radio (NPR) blog post, Despite Deeper Understanding Of Mental Illness, Stigma Lingers.

We can now contrast theory…

Knowledge is power. And some research has suggested that emphasizing the science behind mental illness — that it’s a brain disorder and not a defect in character — could be powerful enough to help shake the stigma of the condition.

As if “brain disorder” was an improvement over “defect in character”. You can self correct “defects of character”, no hassle, but can you readily restore order to “disordered brains”? That, as mad Prince Hamlet might have phrased it, is the question.

…with fact…

Researchers found that while more people understand mental illness is caused by brain biology, that hasn’t translated into a decrease in stigmatization.

The lead researcher on this project says stubbornly that she doesn’t think “the disease is like any other line” is going to fail, no, instead she thinks it has taken us as far as it can take us. I’m left dangling in suspence from the ledge of what’s next.

I, for one, find this conclusion a total cop out. Psychiatric workers are some of the most prejudiced people in the world when it comes to the people they are “treating”, and this is just another example of the detrimental “help” some people find themselves stuck in.

[Bernice] Pescosolido and colleagues analyzed how people responded to questions about vignettes describing people with schizophrenia, major depression and alcohol dependence. The data, from 1996 and 2006, came from General Social Survey.

Researchers found that 67 percent of the nearly 2,000 adults surveyed attributed major depression to neurobiological causes — up from 54 percent 10 years before.

Looking at schizophrenia, 86 percent of those surveyed connected the disease with brain biology, which is 10 points higher than a decade earlier. And the same figure for alcohol dependence rose to 47 percent from 38 percent.

Also, there was an across-the-board increase in those who recommended medical treatment for people with mental illness.

However, there was no significant change in stigma indicators. For example, 62 percent indicated an unwillingness to work closely with someone with schizophrenia. And 74 percent said the same for people with alcohol dependence.

Here’s the problem, if you want to do something about the stigma associated with the “mental illness” tag, you should be treating people for stigma. Obviously, the wrong people have found themselves in mental health treatment.

This insight leads to a further insight, perhaps the people who stigmatize the labeled “mentally ill” are biologically programmed to do so, and thus they wouldn’t be able to stop such behaviors without outside intervention.

Uh huh. This is another one of those ahha moments brought to you by Lunatic Fringe.

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2 Responses

  1. I’m still trying to comprehend how saying some one has a brain disorder is not stigmatizing in and of itself.

    • As I indicated, I think saying a person has a “brain disease” is certainly no less “stigmatizing” (I would prefer to use the word prejudical) than saying a person has a “weak character”. If character is like physique, all that would be required to correct the situation is exercise. What’s really distressingly damaging is this idea of chronicity, or life long “illness”. When people get over difficulties faced in life they don’t die out of them. Pathologizing emotional states will never make such states “diseases” in a literal sense of the word. Biological medical model psychiatry has a long ways to go before it can acknowledge the validity of any approach that disagrees with its own theoretical presumptions.

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