Survey suggests shame around mental illness fading in U.S.

By HealthDay News
Nearly 9 in 10 U.S. adults say there is no shame in having a mental illness, and nearly as many believe mental illnesses can be overcome. Photo by Ryan McGuire/Pixabay
Nearly 9 in 10 U.S. adults say there is no shame in having a mental illness, and nearly as many believe mental illnesses can be overcome. Photo by Ryan McGuire/Pixabay

Stigma regarding mental health could be disappearing in the United States, a new survey finds.

In the online poll of more than 1,000 adults, 87 percent said a mental disorder is nothing to be ashamed of, and 86 percent said they believe that people with such disorders can get better.


And a sizable group doesn't view the most common mental disorders as disorders -- 33 percent said that about anxiety and 22 percent said the same about depression, according to the survey recently released by the American Psychological Association.

In all, 81 percent said they would be comfortable being friends with someone with a mental health disorder, and 79 percent would be at ease interacting with such a person.

Most respondents (59 percent) said they knew someone with a mental disorder -- personal experience that APA's CEO, Arthur Evans Jr., said helps fight stigma.


Even so, almost half (49 percent) would be uncomfortable dating someone with a mental disorder, and only 35 percent would approve of letting someone with a mental disorder care for a child.

And general fears persist: 33 percent said people with mental health disorders scare them. And 39 percent said they would view someone differently if they knew the person had a mental health diagnosis.

People who had experience with mental health disorders were more likely to be comfortable with them.

In all, 42 percent of those who had never had a mental health diagnosis or had never known someone who did were afraid of people with mental disorders. That compared to 27 percent of respondents who had themselves been diagnosed and 28 percent who knew someone who had, according to the survey conducted late last year.

"The results of this survey are encouraging, and a signal that APA's and others' work over the years to promote mental health care is paying off," Evans said in an APA news release. "They indicate a willingness to be more open about mental illness, as well as a strong belief among older respondents that having a mental disorder is nothing to be ashamed of."


The survey also assessed attitudes about suicide. More than 90 percent agreed that people who are suicidal can be treated and go on to live successful lives and that suicide can often be prevented.

Most also supported openness around suicide -- 87 percent said people should talk about suicide more openly, and 84 percent said people should not be ashamed to say a loved one died by suicide.

Nearly 4 of 5 respondents agreed that less stigma and shame around mental health disorders would lower suicide rates.

But 30 percent said that they would not reveal the cause of death if a loved one died by suicide, and 63 percent considered suicide a selfish act.

Overall, young adults reported the poorest mental health and the most shame around mental disorders.

In all, 27 percent of 18- to 34-year-olds said their mental health was fair or poor, compared to 20 percent of 35- to 64-year-olds; and 4 percent of respondents over 65.

About 78 percent of young adults said a mental health disorder was nothing to be ashamed of, compared with 92 percent of seniors and 89 percent of 35- to 64-year-olds.

"More young adults reported feeling shame and stigma surrounding mental health issues than their older peers," Evans said. "This points to the need for psychology to continue to educate the public so that more people understand that there is no shame associated with being mentally ill."


More information

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has more on mental health.

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