Mental Health

Mental Illness Stigmas Are Receding,

But Misconceptions Remain
New survey shows a disconnect between understanding and treatment seeking.

Arlington, Va. – The diagnosis of a mental illness no longer carries the fear or shame it once did, according to a survey released today by the American Psychiatric Association (APA). Nearly 90 percent of Americans surveyed correctly believe that people with mental illness can live healthy lives and an overwhelming majority (80 percent) feels confident that mental health treatment works. Study findings also show that nearly 70 percent of people surveyed view going to a psychiatrist as a sign of strength.

Despite this very positive news, however, there are still some grave misconceptions to address. Each year in the United States, 1 in 5 adults are diagnosed with a mental illness, yet the same proportion of adults say they would not see a psychiatrist under any circumstances. In addition, a majority (57 percent) of those surveyed are not concerned about themselves or a family member ever having to deal with a mental illness. This is troubling news considering that a 1 in 5 incidence rate means that few American families are ever untouched by mental illness.

Although 75 percent of consumers believe that mental illnesses are usually caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain, those surveyed are almost twice as likely to seek help from a primary care physician rather than a psychiatrist – a specialist specifically trained to diagnose and treat chemical imbalances and other determinants of mental illness.

“Overall, the survey reports good news for understanding of mental health,” said Steven S. Sharfstein, M.D., president-elect of the American Psychiatric Association. “However, the public needs to know that psychiatrists are medical doctors who are uniquely qualified to evaluate a person’s physical and mental wellness and develop a comprehensive, individualized treatment plan.”

Additional significant findings:

* More women than men think that seeing a psychiatrist is a sign of strength (78 percent vs. 61 percent)
* 75 percent of adults surveyed correctly understand that psychiatrists are medical doctors with medical degrees, while 38 percent mistakenly think that psychologists are medical doctors
* Younger adults are significantly more positive than older adults (65+) about mental illness issues, highlighting progress made in younger generations embracing the realities of mental illness

According to recent studies, each year, more than 10 million anti-depressant prescriptions are written by primary care doctors, with no mental health follow-up afterwards. While primary care doctors are often the first line of defense, for some patients, additional therapy is an important part of treatment.

“The most important step is to see a doctor if you are concerned about your mental health and we encourage people to seek someone with whom they feel comfortable. Our goal is to raise awareness so that patients know to ask specifics about mental illness and seek the treatment that will be right for them,” said Dr. Sharfstein. “We seek to work closely with primary care providers to ensure comprehensive care, which may include medication, talk therapy or a combination of both.”

Source: American Psychiatric Association
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