Prejudice Associated With “Mental Illness” Tag Increases

The perception that the “mental illness” label is attributed to neurobiological causes has actually increased the prejudice associated with that label. ScienceDaily is one of a number online sources reporting on research showing that what is commonly referred to as stigma directed at people labeled “mentally ill” has done anything but decline in recent years. The article in question is titled Mental Illness Stigma Entrenched in American Culture; New Strategies Needed, Study Finds.

A joint study by Indiana University and Columbia University researchers found no change in prejudice and discrimination toward people with serious mental illness or substance abuse problems despite a greater embrace by the public of neurobiological explanations for these illnesses.

In other words, this study showed that “the disease like any other” approach to “stigma”, that it was hoped would decrease “stigma”, did not serve to decrease “stigma”, but may have actually served to increase “stigma”.

In brief, a random population of almost 2000 (1,956) people were surveyed in 1996 and then again in 2006.

Holding a belief in neurobiological causes for these disorders increased the likelihood of support for treatment but was generally unrelated to stigma. Where associated, the effect was to increase, not decrease, community rejection of the person described in the vignettes.

The ScienceDaily story concludes in a fashion that is both enlightening and helpful.

The research article suggests that stigma reduction efforts focus on the person rather than on the disease, and emphasize the abilities and competencies of people with mental health problems. [Bernice] Pescosolido says well-established civic groups — groups normally not involved with mental health issues — could be very effective in making people aware of the need for inclusion and the importance of increasing the dignity and rights of citizenship for persons with mental illnesses.

Saying that a person has a “mental health problem” is not the same thing as saying that a person has a “mental illness”.

Community segregation and discrimination then play a big part in a problem that could be more easily alleviated through a little community involvement and integration.

Yeah, that’s the way I tend to see it, too.

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