Growing Awareness Of Mental Health Disorders In The U.S.

The word stigma originated in Greece to brand criminals or slaves. In some societies, individuals with mental illnesses like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder were feared, tortured, or thought to have been possessed by demons. From these ancient perspectives, individuals with mental illness today suffer from stigmas, a word that now means discriminatory attitudes.

A CBS poll has found that “2 in 3 Americans think mental illness is a very serious public health problem.” Additionally, “roughly 9 in 10 Americans believe individuals with mental illness suffer discrimination on some level.” The study included younger Americans who know more about mental health conditions like anxiety, depression and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Another interesting finding was that a majority of Americans personally know someone with a mental health disorder.

Statistics, Stigmas, And Social Perceptions

Mental health statistics reveal the staggering numbers of conditions like depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. The National Alliance on Mental illness discloses that approximately 1 in 5 Americans suffer from mental health disorders yearly, 1 in 25 American adults experience serious mental illness, and suicide is the “2nd leading cause of death” among Americans between 10 and 34 years of age.

The CBS News poll revealed that 51% of Americans believe individuals with mental health disorders experience “a lot” of stigmas and discrimination, 35% of Americans believe they experience “some” stigmas and discrimination, and 13% of Americans believe they suffer “little to none” stigmas and discrimination. The study went on to survey Americans’ attitudes, comparing them to those from 10 years ago, concluding:

  • 22% of Americans believe individuals with mental health disorders experienced more discrimination than before.
  • 38% of Americans believe individuals with mental health disorders experienced less discrimination than before.
  • 36% of Americans believe individuals with mental health disorders have not experienced changes in discrimination.

In response to the varying attitudes and numbers on mental health disorders, there were findings on the public health element of mental health disorders. When CBS News polled Americans regarding their views on mental health disorders as a public health concern, 66% of Americans stated it is a very serious problem, 28% considered it somewhat serious, and 5% considered it not serious.

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Combating Stigma

Such numbers are telling of mental health awareness among Americans, with 79% of Americans agreeing that mental health disorders are real conditions. While 66% of Americans believe individuals who need care can get it with the right treatment, 49% of Americans believe there is not enough care available. Similarly, over 50% of Americans believe they would know how to get help for mental health disorders if necessary. However, only 46% of uninsured Americans though they could get help, compared with 69% of insured Americans.

The most common mental health disorders included major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Common stigmas people harbor against individuals with mental health disorders include “dangerous or threatening,” “flawed character traits,” and “inability to function in a healthy or competent manner.” Not only do these attitudes allow people without mental health disorders to fear or be distant from these groups, but they also create self-stigmas for those who have mental illnesses, such as feeling weak or having lower self-esteem.

On a positive note, 77% of Americans feel celebrities openly discussing their experiences with mental illness helps others feel less stigmatized. 73% of Americans know or have known someone diagnosed with a mental health disorder. Lastly, 58% know a family member who has gotten help for mental health disorders. Stigmas and stereotypes can impact those with mental health conditions, adding to stress and isolation. If someone feels alone and unloved, he or she can internalize such feelings and engage in dangerous behaviors, including self-harm. In other cases, individuals with mental health disorders can attempt to cope by abusing substances. This is known as “co-morbidity” in the treatment community.

Opening Up, Getting Help

The overall findings of the CBS poll show that anyone can be vulnerable to the grip of mental health disorders, but that hope is not lost. The survey participants noted they were comfortable talking about their mental health concerns with a relative or with their primary healthcare provider. Since mental health conditions like anxiety and depression do not have to last forever, it is important to find help if you need it. It also helps to be empathetic since individuals can recover with treatment.

If you or a loved one needs help with mental health disorders, substance abuse disorders stemming from mental health disorders, or either condition, consider contacting a treatment professional for help. If you or a loved one is contemplating suicide, know you are worthy of the gift of life and contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline immediately.

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Krystina Murray

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  • Krystina Murray has received a B.A. in English at Georgia State University, has over 5 years of professional writing and editing experience, and over 15 years of overall writing experience. She enjoys traveling, fitness, crafting, and spreading awareness of addiction recovery to help people transform their lives.

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