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For Many, Stigma of Mental Illness Lingers
Date:11/24/2010

beled children as mentally ill were more likely to want to keep their distance from them, as opposed to labeling the children as physically ill.

"I really do think Americans respond differently to problems of the body and problems of the mind. When you inject the genetic or biological explanation, it may convey a sense of permanence," said Bernice A. Pescosolido, lead author of the American Journal of Psychiatry article. "If it's [cast as] biological or genetic, all of a sudden it takes on this air of permanence which people start to worry about."

So what might be the next strategy to reduce this pervasive stigma?

Corrigan believes the answer -- or at least part of it -- lies in stories, "having people with a condition tell their story. This, he said, might include a "way-down story" and a "way-up story": "the way-down proving you are a person with a mental illness and the way-up proving that you have recovered."

"Most people with serious mental illness do recover, so that's why way-up stories are so important," he added. "We would suggest that [these stories] be told to key power groups -- instead of trying to change popular opinion, trying to change important power groups like landlords [and employers]."

Pescosolido, who is a distinguished professor of sociology and director of the Indiana Consortium for Mental Health Services Research at Indiana University in Bloomington, believes that targeting youth would be helpful.

"Let's start working with the kids. The first two words that kids use to hurt each other are 'crazy' and 'gay.' Kids are already picking those things up," she said. "We need to get them early."

Does that mean handing teachers one more curriculum on top of race, safe sex and various other issues?

"I don't think so," she said. "We have to help [children] understand difference. She suggests making mental illness "part of a spectrum of illness, an 'Everyone Has Something' tag line," she said.'/>"/>

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