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Stigma a Barrier to Better Mental Health

For people suffering from mental health issues, stigma is a major barrier to seeking help. (Pixabay)
For people suffering from mental health issues, stigma is a major barrier to seeking help. (Pixabay)
June 21, 2016

CHEYENNE, Wyo. -- 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. Even in a private and anonymous setting, said clinical intern Daniel Lannin, the study's lead author at Iowa State University, someone with greater self-stigma is less likely to take the first step: getting information about help that's 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 often lead to discrimination or exclusion in social or work settings. So, people who need help have a harder time admitting there's a problem. Lannin said the study illustrates the need for better interventions, but added that it 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. For many young adults, Lannin said, it's a time of transition -- going to college, working full-time and moving away from home --- adding to the reasons they may not seek help. By the time people show symptoms of distress, he said, they're often struggling to function.

"Functionally, in areas of their life, they're being impaired," he said. "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 struggles with mental illness in the United States, Lannin said, and those who look for help wait 11 years on average before getting treatment. He said solutions for removing stigma as a barrier need to be addressed, both at a societal and an individual level, for people to feel more comfortable taking those first steps to get better.

The report is online at psycnet.apa.org.

Eric Galatas, Public News Service - WY