The Hill

The Mental Health Stigma Persists In California: 9 Out Of 10 Patients Report Discrimination

Mental health stigma
Experts call for a statewide change in the way mental health care is approached. lindalino, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The mental health stigma is something people everywhere, from policy makers to advocacy groups, are fighting to change. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reported stigmatized illnesses, such as schizophrenia, depression, and anxiety, lead to inadequate insurance coverage; fear and mistrust against those with mental illnesses (and their families); as well as prejudice and discrimination. The latter seems to be a particular problem for residents of California, according to a new study from research organization RAND Corporation.

RAND found only 41 percent of 1,066 people surveyed felt others were caring and sympathetic toward their mental illness, while 81 percent believed people with mental illness experience high levels of prejudice and discrimination; nearly nine out of 10 respondents with an actual mental health problem reported discrimination based on it. So it makes sense two-thirds of respondents also said they “definitely or probably would hide a mental health problem from co-workers or classmates.”

"These high levels of perceived stigma may discourage individuals facing a mental health challenge from getting needed support from friends and family, the workplace, school, and mental health professionals," Eunice Wong, lead researcher and behavioral scientist at RAND, said in a press release.

Wong and his team conducted the survey as part of an effort by the California Mental Health Services Administration to create prevention programs for people with mental illness. Given they found people with mental illness experienced discrimination in their personal relationships, school, workplace, and from health care providers, it’s clear there’s a need for such programs.

However, in spite of these findings, the study also showed more than 80 percent of those surveyed had “a plan for how to stay or become well and believe they can meet their personal goals.” In other words, people with mental illnesses proved to be resilient.

Even so, there’s vast room for change.

"While California residents facing mental health challenges are finding ways to cope and maintain important aspects of well-being, they are substantially burdened by self-stigma and discrimination, which may significantly undermine recovery," Wong said. "Our overall findings show a clear need for stigma and discrimination reduction efforts in California."

Source: Wong E, et al. Stigma, Discrimination, and Well-Being Among California Adults Experiencing Mental Health Challenges. RAND. 2015.

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