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Stigma of mental illness remains barrier to treatment

Updated: Feb 26, 2014 09:50 AM
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WEDNESDAY, Feb. 26, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- The stigma often associated with mental illness prevents many people from getting the care they need, new research shows.

Although one in four people has some form of mental health disorder, the study found that in Europe and the United States, up to 75 percent of those affected do not receive the treatment they need. If left untreated certain mental health problems -- such as psychosis, depression, bipolar disorder and anxiety disorder -- could get worse, researchers warned.

"We now have clear evidence that stigma has a toxic effect by preventing people seeking help for mental health problems," Dr. Graham Thornicroft, senior study author at the Institute of Psychiatry of King's College London, said in a college news release. "The profound reluctance to be 'a mental health patient' means people will put off seeing a doctor for months, years, or even at all, which in turn delays their recovery."

For the study, published Feb. 25 in Psychological Medicine, the researchers collected information from 144 studies involving 90,000 people around the world.

Stigma ranked as the fourth highest of 10 barriers to care. Aside from the stigma of using mental health services or being treated for mental illness, the participants also reported feelings of shame and embarrassment as reasons for not seeking care. Others were afraid to let anyone know they have a mental health issue or were concerned about confidentiality.

Some people with mental illness either felt they could handle their problem on their own or believed they didn't actually need help, the study also found.

Among those most affected by the stigma associated with mental illness were young people, those from minority ethnic groups, members of the military and health care professionals.

"Our study clearly demonstrates that mental health stigma plays an important role in preventing people from accessing treatment," Dr. Sarah Clement, lead study author, also with the Institute of Psychiatry, said in the news release.

"We found that the fear of disclosing a mental health condition was a particularly common barrier," Clement said. "Supporting people to talk about their mental health problems, for example through anti-stigma campaigns, may mean they are more likely to seek help."

More information

Visit the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health to find out about help for mental illnesses.

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