01/09/2015 12:00 BST

Some Promising News When It Comes To Mental Health Stigma


More people are starting to see mental health as a crucial part of staying well. Nearly 90 percent of American adults value mental and physical health equally, according to a new survey.

The findings were part of a nationwide analysis on mental health and suicide conducted by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention. Experts surveyed more than 2,000 respondents and are pleased with the results, given the stigma that's generally associated with mental health disorders.

"Progress is being made in how American adults view mental health ... and the importance that mental health plays in our every day life," said Christine Moutier, chief medical officer for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, on a conference call with reporters. "A greater understanding is occurring with the American people, which is very encouraging."

An overwhelming majority of respondents -- 93 percent -- said they'd intervene if they discovered someone close to them was contemplating suicide. Young adults in particular seem to be taking the conversations about mental illness in a more positive direction.

"The younger generation is more likely to seek help and to have a greater understanding that mental health is a very valid and real aspect of their health," Moutier said. "[They're] going to progress into middle age and the older generation before long and those attitudes can spread."

93 percent of American adults said they'd intervene if they knew someone was contemplating suicide.

However, it's not all good news. While the findings are indeed heartening, there's still a long way to go when it comes to recognizing mental health risks and seeking treatment. Approximately half of respondents said they believed they had a mental health condition, yet fewer than two in five people have received treatment.

Perhaps most alarmingly, the survey found that men are significantly more likely to hide thoughts of suicide -- a worrying statistic given that the highest rate of suicide in the U.S. occurs in middle-aged men.

"In general, we're glad to see that Americans are starting to recognize the importance of mental health as part of their overall wellness, but with over 40,000 Americans committing suicide every year ... it remains a significant concern that many Americans don't seek help," said Mark Pollack, president of the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.

Previous research conducted by the Association for Psychological Science suggests that stigma prevents people from seeking mental health care. After analyzing this survey's results, Moutier, Pollack and other experts also noticed another obstacle: inaccessibility. Approximately one third of people surveyed said finding proper help is a challenge, and four in 10 people said they view cost as a barrier to treatment.

Social support is also a large factor when it comes to suicide, according to Doryn Chervin, director of the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention. Most respondents realized how important their role is when it comes to helping a loved one who is experiencing harmful thoughts.

"People want to do something -- they're willing to do something -- and the more we as a field help them know what to do, the more likely loved ones can play a role in helping to prevent suicide," she said. 

Most survey respondents realized how important their role is when it comes to helping a loved one who is experiencing harmful thoughts.

The findings do offer some refreshing insight into an apparent uptick in society's understanding of mental illness. The common belief that someone can just "suck it up," or "get over it" is a negative stereotype that plagues many sufferers of mental health conditions, which could lead to dangerous consequences, but experts believe the survey's findings suggest that people are beginning to promote a greater acceptance of mental health issues.

"I believe [the results] are a reflection of this change that's happening in terms of increased awareness and stigma going down," Moutier said. "There's certainly more work to be done, but I believe this does reflect a trend in the right direction."

If you -- or someone you know -- need help, please call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. If you are outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of international resources.

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