Despite a pervasive social stigma, people seem more willing today than in the past to disclose experiences with mental illness.
An increasing openness about mental health problems and treatment may be coming with improved knowledge brought by educational campaigns, says Nicola Reavley, a researcher with the Melbourne School of Population and Global Health. "We conducted a national survey of mental health literacy, that is, what people know and believe about mental health problems like depression and schizophrenia. We compared these results with previous surveys carried out since 1995," Reavley said in a statement. "The results of the study revealed that the numbers of those disclosing experiences of depression and early schizophrenia, and of having received professional help for depression, have increased since 1995."
Whereas less than half of people surveyed in 1995 said they knew someone who suffered from such mental illness, that figure jumped to 71 percent by 2011. "We know that people are better at recognizing the symptoms of depression than they used to be. It is also possible that there is less stigma around disclosure, although we still have a lot of work to do in that area," Reavley said.
As one might expect, women were more likely to disclose clinical depression and suicidal thoughts than men in surveys taken in 2003, 2004, and 2011. However, non-Australian men in the study were also more likely to acknowledge such mental health problems. The new information, researchers said, might help inform the design of social marketing campaigns seeking to lower social stigma, an impediment to greater mental health treatment.
"This new information helps us to understand how things can change in the population and the impact of campaigns to reduce the stigma of mental health problems," Reavley said. Still, a study last month from King’s College, London shows that three-quarters of Europeans and Americans fail to seek treatment for mental illnesses — a bias shared heavily by many of the 90,000 study participants worldwide, in countries rich and poor. Likewise, the U.S. military says it's continually striving to lower the stigma associated with mental health treatment, but still faces an uphill battle.