Survey results show that although more Americans now believe that mental illness and alcohol dependency are medical or genetic in origin than did so in the mid-1990s, they are just as likely to reject those who suffer from them, HealthDay News reported Sept. 14.
Throughout the late 1990s and early 2000s, public health advocates promoted the view that mental illness and substance abuse are rooted in neurobiology. Researchers from Indiana University and Columbia University decided to test whether these efforts had changed public perception, support for treatment, and attitudes about people living with disorders.
The researchers compared responses of American adults to surveys given in 1996 and 2006. Participants were asked to listen to short vignettes describing individuals suffering from major depression, alcohol dependence, and schizophrenia, and then answer questions.
While 54 percent of respondents believed that major depression had neurobiological causes in 1996, 67 percent believed that a decade later. The proportion who supported treatment for depression, schizophrenia, and alcohol dependence also increased over the same period. While 61 percent supported psychiatric treatment for alcohol dependence in 1996, 79 percent did so in 2006, and the percentage supporting it for major depression jumped from 75 percent to 85 percent.
Those who believed that the disorders were diseases were more likely to support treatment, but stigma did not decrease. “Where associated, the effect was to increase, not decrease, community rejection,” the authors wrote.
The research team recommended that advocates and treatment providers rethink their approach to reducing stigma. Bernice Pescosolido, the Indiana University sociologist who led the research, said that future efforts should emphasize the person and his or her abilities instead of the disease.
The study appeared online in the American Journal of Psychiatry on Sept. 15, 2010.