People with mental illness don’t always seek out treatment. In fact, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, or SAMHSA, only 58.8 percent of American adults with a serious mental illness received treatment in 2008. SAMHSA sponsors National Recovery Month each September to educate the public on mental illness and to celebrate individuals who have recovered. Such awareness can inspire people with mental health concerns to seek treatment and illuminate the cause behind their reluctance to get help.
The powerful stigma
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the reason why most individuals with mental illness do not receive treatment is because of stigmatization. The stigma associated with mental illness includes the belief that people with mental illness are dangerous, unpredictable, responsible for their illness or generally incompetent. This stigma can result in active discrimination, such as excluding people with mental illness from employment, and social or educational opportunities. Stigmatization can also result in structural discrimination, such as a lack of insurance coverage for mental health, lack of funding for mental health research and use of mental health history in legal proceedings such as custody cases.
Stigmatization not only affects healthy individuals – people with mental illness frequently internalize the negative thoughts expressed by others. They might experience a sense of failure, shame or guilt. They might also believe that they are unable to recover, undeserving of care, dangerous or responsible for their illness.
The stigma associated with mental illness may be particularly damaging to adolescents who are still in the processing of developing their identities.
How the stigma affects teens
A group of researchers at Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences investigated how the stigmas associated with mental illness influenced young adults. This study was one of the first of its kind to consider how the negative views associated with mental health affected adolescents – not just adults.
In this study, 40 adolescents between the ages 12 and 17 were surveyed about their mental health as well as how they coped with society’s perception of mental health. Most of the participants were suffering from either depression or bipolar disorder. Each participant was taking an average of two psychotropic medications.
According to the results, 90 percent of adolescents with a mental illness were likely to cope with a stigma regarding their disorder. These adolescents reported feelings of shame and isolation, as well as a need to withdraw socially and conceal their symptoms. These feelings were caused by both internalized (self-based) and externalized (public-based) stigmatization.
Mental illness is treatable
How can people reduce the negative stigma associated with mental illness? Public health and policy initiatives such as the Affordable Care Act have attempted to reduce structural stigma by making treatment more readily available and educating people about the realities – and the myths – associated with mental illness.
The most important thing we can do for people with mental illness, however, is to reduce the stigma early. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, or NIMH, half of all lifetime cases of mental illness begin by age 14. Despite this early onset, a decades-long delay frequently exists between the start of symptoms and treatment,causing the mental health symptoms – and the stigmatization – to become even more ingrained in a person’s identity. Parents, teachers and schools should make sure to communicate with their teens and let them know that mental illness is treatable.
Sovereign Health Group provides treatment for both adults and adolescents with mental illness and substance addiction. Our clinicians offer patients access to small, effective therapy groups as well as alternative therapies including yoga, meditation, equine therapy and nutrition management to help patients recover or learn to manage their health disorder. For further questions, please contact 888-530-4614.
Written by Courtney Lopresti, M.S. neuroscience, Sovereign Health Group writer