Third of Americans Admit Mental Illness Poll Suggests Stigma Fading

The Florida Times Union, July 3, 2000 | Go to article overview

Third of Americans Admit Mental Illness Poll Suggests Stigma Fading


WASHINGTON -- About a third of Americans say they once felt on the verge of a nervous breakdown or had a mental health problem, according to a study released yesterday that examines perceptions of psychological health over four decades.

"There's been a real change in both Americans' attitudes toward acknowledging mental health problems and in their willingness to talk to people about it," said Ralph Swindle Jr., lead author of the study, which appears in the July issue of American Psychologist.

In 1996, more than 26 percent of adults surveyed said they had felt an impending nervous breakdown, up from 19 percent in 1957, he said.

Another 7 percent said they had experienced a mental health problem, a question not asked in the earlier survey. Most of those questioned related mental illness to more serious psychotic disorders like schizophrenia.

The increase between the surveys could be caused by a combination of more people experiencing psychological problems and a lessening of the stigma associated with admitting to a nervous breakdown, said Swindle of Indiana University.

Participants in the 1996 study saw a nervous breakdown as related to stress, depression and anxiety.

"The way the general population uses the term 'nervous breakdown' is a mental collapse," said co-author Bernice Pescosolido, also at Indiana University. "They were talking about getting to a point in their lives where they couldn't carry on."

Those most likely to say they had anticipated a nervous breakdown were young, white single mothers with low incomes and no involvement with organized religion, the researchers said.

As the percentage of Americans reporting a feeling of impending breakdown has increased over the last four decades, the cause of those feelings and the way they're dealt with has also changed.

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