October 6th, 2010
09:33 AM ET

Stigma of mental illness remains

Despite the efforts of people in the public eye going public about their own condition and despite all of the public service campaigns the stigma attached to mental illness remains. And that's a shame, because there should be no shame in seeking treatment, no matter how severe.

The disappointing news was reported in September by the American Journal of Psychiatry, in an article titled, in part, “A Disease Like Any Other?”

Within the study by researchers at Indiana University and Columbia University were elements of good news, in significant increases in public acceptance of so-called “neurobiological” explanations – meaning genetics or brain chemistry as the cause – for mental illness and acceptance of seeking help from mental health professionals.

But despite efforts to make mental illness “like any other” disease, the researchers review of ten years of public campaigning found little progress in ending the stigma. “Prejudice and discrimination in the U.S. aren't moving," said Indiana University sociologist Bernice Pescosolido, a leading researcher in this area. "In fact, in some cases, it may be increasing. It's time to stand back and rethink our approach."

Jonathan Rottenberg, who directs the Mood and Emotion Laboratory at the University of South Florida sees the “like any other” campaign” as well-intentioned. “Patient advocacy groups have bought into the disease model, often out of the belief that seeing depression as a disease like any other will reduce the stigma associated with depression. This motivation is pure. Historically people who have suffered from depression have tended to suffer in silence and/or not sought treatment because of the shame associated with admitting depression,” wrote Rottenberg, an Associate Professor of Psychology.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 9 percent of American adults met the criteria for depression, including 3.4 percent with major depression, based on data covering more than 235,000 people, gathered between 2006-2008. The manufacture and sale of anti-depressants, taken by an estimated 27 million people, is a multi-billion dollar business, according to Rottenberg.

Whether the answer is talk therapy or pharmacology or a combination of both, or some alternative treatment, getting care is critical for those suffering from serious depression. The importance of ending the stigma cannot be underestimated. “It can produce discrimination in employment, housing, medical care and social relationships, and negatively impact the quality of life for these individuals, their families and friends,” Science Daily stated.

"Often mental health advocates end up singing to the choir," Pescosolido said. "We need to involve groups in each community to talk about these issues which affect nearly every family in America in some way. This is in everyone's interest."

Everyone would include Ron Artest, a forward for the National Basketball Association champion Los Angeles, a man not known as a shrinking violet by any stretch of the imagination.

Artest recently spoke at a middle school, telling the students that he began having mental health problems while still a young boy. Artest said he’s considering selling his championship ring to raise funds to support mental health counseling in schools, a notable gesture from a player who publicly thanked his psychologist for helping him this past season. "When you think about mental health, you don't have to be afraid," Artest told the students, urging them to take their problems to school counselors. "That doesn't mean you're crazy, it just means you have some issues in your life," he said. "This is a way to be able to talk to somebody about your problems."

Artest may have done as much as anyone else to remove the stigma.

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