July 03, 2004

Growing Empathy for Mentally Ill

It's nice to know that all the efforts to promote understanding and fight the stigma of mental illness are having some positive results.

According to a Houston Area Survey in March of this year, 63% of respondants said that mental illness is primarily due to a brain disorder (click here to see a pie chart of the survey results). According to Stephen Klineberg, a Rice University sociology professor, "[t]he findings demonstrate an "evolving understanding" of mental illness that has markedly improved since a 1996 national survey showed 35 percent of people surveyed attributed mental illness to sinful or immoral behavior."

Philip Burguieres, former head of a Houston Fortune 500 oil-field service company, knows the importance of such understanding. When he revealed (more than a year after his resignation) taht he had to leave the company due to "debilitating depression," he recieved unexpected support from friends and other CEOs. This was despite warnings that making such an announcement could ruin his career and his public life.

However, the underlying stigma, and the fear of being ostracized, keeps many from admitting their own struggles with mental illness or seeking help. Burguieres said at a Wednesday news conference that many CEOs he knows pay for psychiatric services with cash, so that no records will exist of their visit.
Among other things, the March survey also revealed that people who know someone with mental illness were more likely to favor equal insurance coverage and higher taxes for better treatment, and also believed more strongly in the efficacy of treatment. So keep sharing your own stories!

Other findings of the survey (article excerpt):

�Democrats and liberals are more likely than Republicans and conservatives to approve legislation requiring corporations to provide mental health insurance or raising taxes to improve access to mental health care.

�Minorities are more liable than whites to be concerned if someone in their neighborhood is being treated for mental illness.

�Women are more inclined than men to agree that most people undergoing treatment can lead a normal life.

For the full news article, please see 'Empathy for mentally ill increasing, survey shows' in the Houston Chronicle (http://www.chron.com), July 1 2004.

For another recent news story about fighting mental illness stigma (the story of Robert Lundin), see 'The Long Haul: Fighting Day-to-Day Mental Illness Stigma' in the Newsblog (www.schizophrenia.com/sznews/), June 29, 2004.


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