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Survey: People With Mental Illness Have Faith in Treatment and Recovery, But Feel Stigma and Bias

Posted on May 19th, 2015
Posted in Mental Health

May is Mental Health Month and a good time to take the temperature on how people with psychological challenges are faring.

The good news: The vast majority of people with mental health issues (89 percent) said they had others in their lives they could count on, according to a recent survey. Nearly as many (80 percent) expressed faith in recovery, and 7 out of 10 said they’re satisfied with life.

The not-so-good news: More than 4 out of every 5 Californians (81 percent) in psychological distress also feel that they face “high levels of prejudice and discrimination” because of it, with only 2 out of 5 believing that the public is “caring and sympathetic” toward those with mental illness.

These are the discouraging findings of a recently published RAND survey titled “Stigma, Discrimination, and Well-Being Among California Adults Experiencing Mental Health Challenges.” The survey was the result of interviews in English and Spanish with 1,066 respondents from May to August 2014.

Not surprisingly, when asked if they would reveal a mental health problem to co-workers or classmates, more than 2 out of 3 said they probably wouldn’t, while 1 out of 3 said that they’d keep the information secret from family and friends.

Most Would Get Help If No Stigma Existed

Although 9 out of 10 of the respondents claimed they’d seek professional help for a “serious emotional problem,” 2 out of 5 said the chance that getting treatment would expose their mental health problem would be reason enough to delay seeking it. Among those who’d had serious psychological distress in the 12 months prior to the survey, about 6 in 10 (59 percent) did seek treatment.

Among other findings that reinforced a perception of isolation experienced by people in the survey:

  • 61 percent agreed that “people who have not had a mental health problem could not possibly understand me.”
  • 40 percent said “I feel out of place in the world because I have had a mental health problem.”
  • 35 percent admitted to being “embarrassed or ashamed” because of their mental health problem.
  • 29 percent said they were disappointed in themselves for having a mental health problem.
  • And about one-third of survey respondents agreed that the mental health problem had “spoiled” their lives and caused them to feel inferior to people without one.

Strong Concerns About School and Work

Among those who reported actually having experienced an episode of discrimination in the previous 12 months, about 6 out of 10 reported incidents involving family members, marriage partners or others whom they were intimate with.

School or an employer was the source of trouble among 44 percent, with 41 percent reporting an experience involving social activities. Potential employers and police were cited as sources of discrimination by 36 percent, while mental or physical health providers or staff were seen as exhibiting prejudice by just slightly less — 35 percent — the same amount coming from “people in the neighborhood.”

Still, despite the stigma — if not outright discrimination — felt by the majority of respondents, 19 out of every 20 expressed a desire to succeed and said they had life goals they wished to achieve. Only slightly less (86 percent) said they had a plan for becoming and/or staying well, while 83 percent expressed confidence in reaching their personal goals.

Most People Feel They Have Support

Although most people didn’t feel as if society at large was accepting of mental illness, the vast majority believed they have supportive people in their lives, that recovery is possible, and that they’re lives are generally satisfying.

While finding that those surveyed “possess high levels of goal directedness, personal confidence and hope, and social support,” the survey’s authors expressed alarm at the levels of alienation among them and the occurrences of discrimination — especially from the people they’re closest to — since those factors appear to contribute to significant concealment of mental health problems as well as delays in treatment among those who suffer from them most.

The authors’ conclusion: There’s a “clear need for stigma and discrimination reduction efforts in the state of California.”

By Nancy Wride

Follow Nancy on Twitter at @NWride

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