WEDNESDAY, Nov. 24 (HealthDay News) -- Persistent efforts to reduce the stigma associated with mental illness haven't succeeded as well as hoped, suggesting that new strategies might be necessary.
For decades, a number of organizations have been trying to persuade the public that mental illnesses such as depression, alcohol dependence and schizophrenia are neurobiological disorders, not just people behaving badly, hoping that harsh judgments would subside.
Even drug ads unintentionally bolstered the view of the mentally ill as having "lifelong" or permanent problems, with their emphasis on science-focused explanations of the brain mechanisms behind some mental illness, claims a study appearing in the November issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry.
This study compared people's responses to vignettes describing individuals with mental illness in surveys conducted a decade apart, in 1996 and 2006.
Certain attitudes did change for the better. For instance, in 2006, 67 percent of respondents believed major depression had a neurobiological basis, compared with only 54 percent in 1996.
And support for treatment rose over the years, with 79 percent supporting treatment for alcoholism in 2006, up from 61 percent in 1996. The proportion of respondents supporting treatment for depression also rose from 75 percent in 1996 to 85 percent a decade later.
But these changes didn't bring mental illness out from the shadows. Respondents still preferred to keep their distance from people with mental ills and still perceived them as dangerous -- attitudes the researchers described as "surprisingly fixed."
If anything, the "stigma seems to be getting worse," said Patrick Corrigan, associate dean of psychology research and a distinguished professor with the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago.
A 2007 study found that respondents to a survey who la
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