With an abundance of resources available to individuals suffering from mental illnesses, has the stigma surrounding mental health finally decreasing?

Mental illness has long been misunderstood, with words like “insanity,” “lunacy” and “madness” at times used to describe symptoms. Beginning in the 1800s, psychiatric facilities were used to “care” for individuals who were viewed as mentally unstable. Overall, mental stability wasn’t always treated with the most comforting terms or actions. However, mental illness has played a role in society for centuries and is a frequent issue in societies across the globe. In fact, one in every five American adults suffers from a mental illness. If these struggles are so common, then why do they come with such a heightened stigma? Has America really done anything to combat the negative thoughts associated with mental illness?

A leader in the behavioral healthcare field, The Recovery Village, surveyed hundreds of individuals across the nation to see how America is handling mental health stigmas. From those who have experienced mental illness firsthand to those who have witnessed it in friends and family, these results show that mental health is a serious issue that shouldn’t be seen as shameful.

Americans Are Struggling With Various Mental Illnesses Every Day

With a staggering 43.4 million Americans struggling with mental health issues annually, it’s no surprise that a majority of individuals who took The Recovery Village survey have struggled with a mental health issue themselves. Approximately 27 percent of all respondents currently struggle with a mental illness and an additional 35 percent have had a mental health issue in the past. With nearly 35 percent of the respondents admitting to experiencing an anxiety disorder, 38 percent experiencing depression and 18 percent experiencing mood disorders, mental illness is more common than the general public may believe. Even when people don’t experience some kind of mental health issue themselves, a majority of survey respondents know someone who is affected by mental illness. Almost 43 percent of respondents have members of their own family struggling with a mental illness, and almost 37 percent have friends who are also dealing with a mental illness. If having a mental illness seems to be so common, then why has mental health been seen as such a dilemma throughout history?

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 42 million American adults struggle with an anxiety disorder and 16 million struggle with depression. That equals a quarter of the United States’ population dealing with those two specific mental illnesses on a daily basis. This statistic excludes those struggling with mood disorders, personality disorders, post-traumatic stress disorders, sleep disorders or any other variations of mental health issues.

Substance Use and Mental Illness Go Hand in Hand 

A substance use disorder can easily be obtained without individuals being aware that one is even forming. Consuming prescription drugs that are given by a medical professional can still allow a person to become dependent on said drug. What most people are unaware of is the fact that addiction is more than lacking the willpower to stop using a substance; it’s having the inability to stop. When addiction forms, it causes the chemical makeup of the brain to change, making a person feel as if they need the substance to function because it’s what the brain is accustomed to. The same concept can apply to mental illness.

When an individual struggles with their mental health, it is most likely caused by the chemical makeup or a hormonal imbalance in the body that results in the illness. With the presence of both a substance use disorder and a mental illness, the body struggles due to the way it accommodated the disorder and illness over time. When this occurs, an individual will begin to suffer from a co-occurring disorder. This is when a person has two different illnesses or disorders being dealt with at once. Most individuals who have a substance use disorder end up having an underlying mental illness that could have been masked by the substance use disorder. This is a major reason why seeking treatment with a team of professionals can be most beneficial, as they can discover any lingering mental illnesses and assist with recovering from said illness as well as the disorder.

While working to manage an addiction isn’t as common as managing a mental illness amongst The Recovery Village’s survey respondents, almost 31 percent of participants reported struggling with an addiction to drugs or alcohol, with 9 percent currently managing one. Roughly 35 percent of participants have dealt with both addiction and a mental illness either in the past or currently. A majority of responders, 59 percent to be precise, agree that there is a connection between the two health issues.

As the survey suggests, mental health and substance abuse often have a correlation and are a growing challenge for many people. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2.3 million Americans had a co-occurring disorder involving a substance use disorder and a mental illness in 2013. By 2014, this number more than tripled with 7.9 million individuals struggling with the same kind of co-occurring disorder.

Is Leaving Mental Illnesses Untreated Worth the Price?

When it comes to individuals not seeking treatment for mental illness, 32 percent of survey participants believe that the negative stigma associated with mental illness is what prevents them from seeking the treatment they need. On the other hand, 28 percent of respondents believe people don’t seek treatment because of the lack of affordable treatment facilities. However, not treating mental illness can have detrimental effects on the affected person and their community.

Because mental illness qualifies as a disease and can keep people from performing everyday tasks, some people receive disability payments or benefits. In fact, depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide. Aside from mental illnesses taking employees away from their careers, it also costs the country more in disability expenses, totaling $2.5 trillion alone in 2010. The projected cost is $6 trillion by 2030.

Beyond the economic standpoint, the 60 percent of adults who do not receive treatment can also suffer from suicidal ideations. In fact, 90 percent of adults who have committed suicide had an underlying mental illness that went untreated.

What’s Being Done to Fight the Stigma?

When lives are being lost daily due to untreated mental illnesses and the government is spending tremendous amounts of money to cover the cost of those unable to work due to their mental health, some people question whether anything is truly being done to help defeat the stigma. However, individuals seem to be equally divided when it comes to the progress that has been made toward the reduction of the stigma. With 50.5 percent of survey respondents saying there has been progress, and 49.5 percent saying there hasn’t been, it seems as if the idea of the de-stigmatization of mental illness is still a long ways away. However, the current state of the stigma is still an improvement from previous years.

Out of the survey participants, 39 percent believe that more discussion and visibility about mental health has helped de-stigmatize the topic. Eleven percent believe there is greater accessibility to resources necessary for effective treatment, and 19 percent believe that the availability of more affordable treatment has helped those in need.

Healthcare reform has helped many overcome the stigma associated with mental health. According to Mental Health America, the rates of uninsured adults with a mental illness decreased by 5 percent in 2017 and Medicaid expansion across the states increased. Given the fact that coverage has improved through time allows individuals to seek treatment without having to worry about the cost.

Another benefit to de-stigmatizing mental illness is the number of facilities that are now available to individuals everywhere. In 2010, there were 10,374 eligible facilities accessible for people looking to begin various kinds of treatment for mental health and substance use disorders. In total, 3,186,636 clients were enrolled in these facilities in 2010 alone. With the number of treatment centers growing, it allows individuals to know that they are not alone in their struggles and there are affordable options available to them.

The Recovery Village offers patients the opportunity to receive assistance with battling substance use disorders and co-occurring mental health disorders. With facilities throughout the country and unique programs and treatment teams, The Recovery Village can help clients form a healthier lifestyle and enter recovery safely.

If you or a loved one is struggling with a co-occurring disorder, help is closer than you think. Call The Recovery Village and speak with a representative to discover the treatment options that can benefit you most. Each call is free and confidential. Don’t be afraid to pick up the telephone and take the first step toward a life in recovery today.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.