Mental Illness Stigma for Depression and Schizophrenia Common in 16 Countries

First Posted: Apr 11, 2013 09:41 AM EDT

Despite that mental illness is commonly accepted as a disease, a "backbone" of prejudice exists that unfairly paints some with certain conditions as undesirable for close personal relationships and positions of authority. An international study conducted by Indiana University sociologists spanned 16 diverse countries to see if that stigma still exists. Unfortunately, results show that it is very much still alive.

"If the public understands that mental illnesses are medical problems but still reject individuals with mental illness, then educational campaigns directed toward ensuring inclusion become more salient," the authors wrote in "The 'Backbone' of Stigma: Identifying the Global Core of Public Prejudice Associated With Mental Illness," published online early in a special issue of the American Journal of Public Health.

Data from the IU-led Stigma Global Context - Mental Health Study was analyzed by researchers, who talked with 19,508 study participants about customized vignettes. The vignettes portrayed someone suffering either from depression, schizophrenia or, the control group, asthma. The countries represented a diverse range geographically, developmentally and politically, with at least one country on each inhabitable continent.

Even with countries that have tended to be more accepting of the stigma, encompassing issues involving caring for children, marriage and holding roles of authority or civic responsibility were questioned. The stigma was even stronger toward people with schizophrenia.

"The stereotype of all people with mental illness as 'not able' is just wrong. No data supports this," said Bernice Pescosolido, sociology professor in the IU College of Arts and Sciences and an internationally recognized expert in the field of mental health stigma, according to a press release. He chairs the international advisory council for Bring Change 2 Mind, a non-for-profit organization established by actress and activist Glenn Close to reduce the prejudice and discrimination associated with mental illness. "With the prevalence of mental health problems being so high, no individuals or families will go untouched by these issues. They need to understand that recovery is not only possible but has been documented."

"Forward-thinking organizations base their work both on community ties and science -- this works best in terms of making change efforts realistic, effective and resonate with individuals, families, providers and policymakers," Pescosolido said. "Hopefully the work of organizations like these can find the support necessary to create personal and institutional social change.

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