Selling “Mental Illness” To Teenagers In The Land Down Under

I’ve been reading about a study on stigma in Australia, and I think that the problem with this study is that it’s based entirely on misconceptions. Health News has an article on the study in question, The blues aren’t black and white for teens.

Nope, not unless the home team’s colors happen to be black and white.

A study of over 1,300 12 to 17 year-olds by the Centre for Mental Health Research (CMHR) at ANU found that mental illness does carry a stigma amongst adolescents, but that teenagers overestimate its extent.

Just what does this stigma look like, and how obese it tended to be the article didn’t elaborate on. If they were to ask kids about chimeras and dragons I imagine they’d find a large population of those as well and, of course, teenagers would have opinions about them.

The study differentiated between ‘personal depression stigma’, an individual’s beliefs about depression, and ‘perceived depression stigma’, or an individual’s perception of what other people think and feel about depression.

If you want to know what this research is actually about, it’s actually about selling “mental illness”.

“Young people do not seek help for depression because of fear of negative attitudes in the wider community, especially from their peers,” said Dr [Alison] Calear.

I would imagine that since it is about selling “mental illness”, “depression” in particular, some drug company is helping to fund it.

“Greater understanding of the development of stigmatising attitudes and beliefs can help inform new strategies and techniques to reduce stigma in the community and ultimately increase help-seeking behaviour,” she said.

Emphasis added.

A particularly distressing aspect of the study we’re talking about here is that the social group they are trying to sell “mental illness” to are adolescents.

Say, “He who is without guilt cast the first stone”, and you’d be gazing at a rock pile.

Another key finding in the study was that teenagers considered other people’s depression stigma as significantly higher than their own.

The teenagers as a rule thought other people were more prejudiced (stigmatizing) than they themselves were. The authors of the study call this finding significant; I’d call it moot, and mark it off to human nature.

Put more kids on SSRI antidepressants, and not only would you have more kids labeled depressed, but doing so is going to trigger a manic or psychotic reaction in a certain percentage of those kids. The mental health authorities are then going to say, “Oops. Sorry, misdiagnosis. We’ve actually got another case of bipolar disorder here.”

When the cause is actually to be found in antidepressant use, perhaps we should be working to get fewer people into mental health treatment rather than more. We’ve got a word for working to get fewer people into mental health treatment, and that word is prevention. Of course, this is not to say that there might not be a stigma attached to “mental illness” prevention efforts.