BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- A joint study by Indiana University and Columbia University researchers found no change in prejudice and discrimination toward people with serious mental illness or substance abuse problems despite a greater embrace by the public of neurobiological explanations for these illnesses.
The study, published online Sept. 15 in the American Journal of Psychiatry, raises vexing questions about the effectiveness of campaigns designed to improve health literacy. This "disease like any other" approach, supported by medicine and mental health advocates, had been seen as the primary way to reduce widespread stigma in the United States.
"Prejudice and discrimination in the U.S. aren't moving," said IU sociologist Bernice Pescosolido, a leading researcher in this area. "In fact, in some cases, it may be increasing. It's time to stand back and rethink our approach."
Stigma, the well-documented reluctance by many to socialize or work with people who have a mental or substance abuse disorder, is considered a major obstacle to effective treatment for many Americans who experience these devastating illnesses. It can produce discrimination in employment, housing, medical care and social relationships, and negatively impact the quality of life for these individuals, their families and friends.
Funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, the study examined whether American attitudes concerning mental illness have changed during a 10-year period when efforts on many levels and by many groups focused on making Americans aware of the genetic and medical explanations for depression, schizophrenia and substance abuse. While Americans reported more acceptance of these explanations, this did nothing to change prejudice and discrimination, and in some cases, made it worse.
The study involved questions posed to a nationally representative sample of adults as part of the General Social Survey (GSS), a bi
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