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Self-Labeling Hinders Mental-Health Treatment

One in five people struggle with mental illness in the United States, but on average, they wait about 11 years to get help. (Pixabay)
One in five people struggle with mental illness in the United States, but on average, they wait about 11 years to get help. (Pixabay)
July 11, 2016

COLUMBUS, Ohio - For people struggling with mental-health issues, stigma is a major barrier to seeking help, according to a new report. The research measured how 370 college students responded when given the opportunity to learn more online about mental-health services.

Daniel Lannin, the study's lead author and a clinical intern at Iowa State University, said even in a private and anonymous setting, someone with greater self-stigma is less likely to take the first step: getting information about the help available.

"Stigma means that a person is putting labels on themselves like, 'I'm weak, I'm disturbed,' because they're believing what some parts of society are telling them about having a mental-health concern or seeking counseling," he said.

Lannin said many people still feel uncomfortable or threatened by mental illness, views that can lead to discrimination or exclusion in social or work settings. He said as a result, people who need help have a harder time admitting there's a problem. Lannin said the study illustrates the need for better interventions, but adds that can be tricky, because efforts often are rejected.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, three-quarters of all chronic mental-health conditions begin by age 24. Lannin said for young adults, this is a time of transition, going to college, working full-time and moving away from home, adding to the reasons they may not seek help. He notes that by the time someone shows symptoms of distress, they're often struggling to function.

"Functionally, in areas of their life, they're being impaired," he added. "They might miss work. They might miss class. In some cases, they might struggle with even hygiene, or they might strongly contemplate suicide."

One in five people struggle with mental illness in the U.S., and Lannin said those who look for help wait 11 years on average before finally getting treatment. He said solutions for removing stigma as a barrier should be addressed at both a societal and individual level, for people to feel more comfortable taking those first steps to treatment.

The full report can be read online here.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - OH