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Study Confirms That Stigma Still a Barrier to Psychiatric Care

March 2006

A new study shows that while most Americans think that psychiatric drugs work, they probably wouldn’t ever use them.

The study, released by the Indiana Consortium for Mental Health Services at Indiana University, Bloomington, indicates that the stigma associated with taking antidepressants and psychiatric drugs remains high even though people increasingly understand mental illness and appreciate advances in treatment. Researchers found that:

  • Approximately two-thirds said psychiatric drugs do help people with mental health issues deal with day-to-day anxiety, control their symptoms, and improve family relationships;

  • Just 56 percent said they would be willing to take medication to alleviate panic attacks;

  • 41 percent would do so if they were diagnosed with depression;

  • And only about a third would be willing to take them for personal troubles or stress.

People may shy away from taking psychiatric drugs because they fear they will face stigma from others. “There is a real link in the public mind between mental illness and ‘dangerousness,’ and that is what is fueling the stigma,” said sociologist Bernice A. Pescosolido, director of the consortium. “Americans have become more sophisticated and knowledgeable about mental illness, and everybody assumed the stigma was going away.” But the results of this report clearly indicate that is not the case.

The report utilized data from the 1998 Surgeon General’s Social Survey of 1,400 Americans and was funded, in part, by the National Institute of Mental Health.

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