A new study has detailed the stigma of mental illness in Canada. Its results are unsettling, to say the least. Here are some of the findings:
- 46% believe that a diagnosis of mental illness is merely an “excuse for poor behavior and personal failings”
- 10% think that people with mental illness could “just snap out of it if they wanted”
- 42% would no longer socialize with a friend diagnosed with mental illness
- 55% would not marry someone who suffered from mental illness
- 25% are afraid of being around someone who suffers from serious mental illness
- 50% would not tell friends or coworkers that a family member was suffering from mental illness. 72% would discuss cancer, and 68% diabetes.
- 50% think alcoholism and drug addiction are not mental illnesses
- 11% think depression is not a mental illness
- 50% think that depression is not a serious condition
There is no reason to believe that attitudes toward the mentally ill are any better in the US. Experience shows us that they may be even be worse. To my knowledge there have been no comparable studies of mental health stigma in the US, amazingly enough.
The Canadian Medical Association study
Final frontier of socially acceptable discrimination
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) released the results of its survey of Canadians’ attitudes toward mental health on August 18, 2008. It contains, besides the survey of attitudes toward the mentally ill, information on how Canadian citizens view their mental health care system, as well as how doctors regard the system.
Overall, the results are grim. Brian Day, president of CMA, said the survey “shines a harsh, and frankly unflattering, light on the attitudes we Canadians have concerning mental health.” He further said that,
[the stigma of mental illness is the] final frontier of socially acceptable discrimination.”
Jean-Bernard Trudeau, of the Douglas Mental Health University Institute in Montreal, said the attitudes found in the survey are “deplorable but not that surprising.” He added,
People are afraid of what they don’t know. It just shows that we have to make a lot more effort to educate the public about mental illness.
The number of Canadians with mental health issues
US and Canadian numbers comparable
About the same percentages of the mentally ill apply to Canada as to the US. One in four Canadians will suffer from a diagnosable mental illness at some point in their lives. Mental illness costs the Canadian economy $51 billion a year, according to research from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.
The study found that 15% have been diagnosed by a doctor as being clinically depressed. And among those reporting other issues associated with mental illness, 36% report stress, and 23% report feelings of helplessness or hopelessness.
Surprisingly, 20% did not seek help for mental illness issues, despite Canada’s liberal system of government-funded health care. About 66% of US citizens do not seek mental health help.
More results of the Canadian study
Stigma restricts the economy
The stigma of mental illness in Canada restricts the economy in many ways. Besides the economic effect of stigmatization on the mentally ill, a large majority of the population would not do business with people with a mental illness:
- 58% would be unlikely to hire a lawyer with a mental illness
- 58% would not use a child care worker with a mental illness
- 58% would not hire a mentally ill financial advisor
- 61% would not use a family doctor with a mental illness
What do you think?
US attitudes no better
Before US citizens get all cocky, let me emphasize that I don’t think attitudes toward mental health are any better here than in Canada. In fact, they may be worse. The governments in Canada and the UK are behind efforts to correct the stigma of mental illness. In the US, it’s been an uphill struggle just to get close to parity for reimbursements for mental health services and medical services. The battle against the stigma of mental illness is left to private organizations, most of which are poorly funded.
- If you are a Canadian citizen, do you think that the survey accurately states the attitudes of the people around you?
- If you are a US citizen, do you think that the Canadian survey might be applicable to the US?
- How would you combat the stigma of mental illness?
As always, your comments are welcome!
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Resources used in this post:
Canadian Medical Association. (2008, August). Eighth Annual National Report Card on Health Care. Retrieved August 27, 2008 from Canadian Medical Association Web site (PDF): http://www.cma.ca/multimedia/cma/Content_images/Inside_cma/Annual_Meeting/2008/GC_Bulletin/National_Report_Card_EN.pdf
Picard, André. (2008, August 18). Stigma of mental illness pervasive: CMA head. Retrieved August 22, 2008 from Globe and Mail Web site ($$): http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20080818.wmental18/BNStory/mentalhealth/home