And while a larger portion of the American public is recognizing the importance of mental health, there’s still a significant social stigma around mental illnesses. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention Survey, for example, revealed that 90 percent of Americans value physical and mental health equally. The same survey revealed that young adults (between ages 18 and 24) are becoming more comfortable with seeking help for mental health.
But according to Del Vecchio, mental health professionals also continue to see data that indicates a degree of social distancing. People tend to react negatively to questions about whether they would want a person with a mental illness to be a co-worker, or to marry into their family, he says.
“In fact, we have seen increases in those negative responses, particularly as it relates to the myths about violence and mental illness,” Del Vecchio says.
Del Vecchio also says part of the negative perception around mental illness because television and film media often stigmatize those with mental disorders as violent. Take movies like “Psycho”, “Basket Case”, and “Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” for example. Those types of films send the message that psychosis goes hand in hand with violent behavior. But just a small fraction of violent incidents in the United States are attributable to mental illness, according to Del Vecchio.
“One really clear message that we need to continue to enforce to the American public is that recovery is real and that people can receive effective treatment and go on to live happy and full lives in their communities,” Del Vecchio says. Research around public attitudes indicates only about a quarter believe recovery can happen, he says, but “the vast majority can and do recover.”
Part of the social stigma also comes from a lack of understanding about how the brain functions, how mental health disorders arise, and what is the best course of treatment. There’s even a divide in the medical community about how to approach diagnosis and treatment for mental illnesses, according to Ken Duckworth, medical director at the National Alliance on Mental Illness.