The initial sample for 1998 included 1,387 people, while the 2006 survey included 1,437 people. Both groups included slightly more females than males. More than 70 percent of both groups were white, and more than half had more than a high school education.
In 1998, 84 percent of people agreed with the statement, "These medications help people control their symptoms." In 2006, that number had edged up slightly, to 86 percent.
By 2006, more people believed that psychiatric medications could help people feel better about themselves (68 percent vs. 60 percent), help people deal with stress (83 percent compared to 78 percent), and make things easier with family and friends (76 percent compared to 68 percent).
People were somewhat more willing to take these medications themselves: 29 percent in 2006 vs. 23 percent in 1998. Opinions about the drugs' potential adverse effects didn't change over time, according to the study.
Mojtabai said that advertising may have helped increased people's positive perceptions of these drugs. But, he added, there is also an increasing awareness that many psychiatric disorders have a biological or organic cause that medications may be able to help correct.
Dr. Norman Sussman, interim chairman of the psychiatry department at New York University Langone Medical Center, said that advertising has definitely played a role in people's perceptions of these drugs, noting that many people now ask him for medications by name. He added that another reason may be word-of-mouth endorsements from people who are taking these medications and have been helped by them.
"These drugs have become a part of our culture," Sussman said. "Fifty years ago, psychiatric drugs were something you'd take only if psychotherapy failed. Today, psychotherapy often isn't affordable, and the nature of treating symptoms has shifted towar
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