Almost half of people in a recent survey reported having little or no
knowledge about mental illnesses, but the vast majority—84
percent—believed that they could benefit from this information,
according to the results of a survey released by APA in May.
That most of the respondents were interested in learning more about mental
health topics is good news to APA's secretary-treasurer and incoming
president-elect, Carolyn Robinowitz, M.D.
"The more people learn, the more they can understand what mental
illness means for themselves and their friends, family members, and others
they know," she told Psychiatric News. "This knowledge
also enables them to seek care for themselves and their loved ones if
APA conducted the survey in March among 1,005 participants aged 18 to 54
recruited through Web advertisements by Knowledge Networks, a consumer
research firm. The 1,005 respondents were randomly selected from an Internet
database of people who agreed to take part in a number of Web-based surveys.
They completed the mental health survey online.
APA gathered the information to gain an understanding of public knowledge
and attitudes about mental illness, according to Lydia Sermons-Ward, director
of APA's Office of Communications and Public Affairs.
The results of the survey also helped shape the messages behind APA's 2006"
Healthy Minds, Healthy Lives" campaign.
According to the results, a third of those surveyed (33 percent) attributed
mental illness to an "emotional or personal weakness," and about
the same proportion attributed mental illness to old age. In addition, a third
of adults said they would not seek treatment for a mental disorder because
they fear what others would think of them.
Those surveyed said they would rely on a variety of sources for information
or advice about identifying the basic signs of mental illness. For instance,
82 percent reported being "very likely" or "somewhat
likely" to rely on a family doctor or primary care physician for this
information, and 73 percent said they would turn to a friend or family member.
Slightly less popular sources of information included pamphlets in a doctor's
office (71 percent), books (68 percent), and the Internet (60 percent).
When presented with a scenario in which a friend displayed warning signs of
a common mental illness, the majority of respondents (85 percent) reported
being "very likely" or "somewhat likely" to suggest
that the friend seek help from a family doctor or primary care physician.
Though there were a number of misconceptions about mental health revealed
in the survey answers, Robinowitz is encouraged by the results, for the most
part. "I think that if this survey had been conducted a decade ago, the
results would have been more discouraging," she said. Continuing to
publicize the results of treatment and its effectiveness will continue to
enhance public awareness about mental health issues, she noted.
The survey results showed respondents need more information about
psychiatric treatments: 63 percent of respondents would suggest to a friend
that he or she seek help from another friend or family member, and 62 percent
would suggest that the friend consult the help of a psychiatrist.
Although the majority of Americans (87 percent) believe that it is
important to have a medical degree to be able to diagnose and treat mental
illnesses, there was a misconception among many members of the public about
whether psychiatrists were medical doctors: 39 percent were unsure or said
psychiatrists were not medical doctors.
Though some respondents were negatively impacted by the stigma surrounding
mental illness, many others believed that the media could help to erase
stigma: about two-thirds of those surveyed said that positive portrayals of
people with mental illness in the news or in television shows and movies would
have "quite a lot" or "some" influence in overcoming
the stigma associated with mental illness.
Psychiatrists can also do their part to educate the public, Robinowitz
"We have an obligation to speak about these issues in our
communities—in synagogues, churches, schools, and other public settings
where we can teach people about mental illness," she said.
In addition, psychiatrists and psychiatric organizations such as APA should
continue to partner with consumer-run organizations such as the National
Alliance on Mental Illness, she said, "because people with mental
illness and their families are the best mental health spokespersons" and
are best able to demythologize mental illnesses and their treatments.
Psychiatrists should also partner with their medical colleagues, according
to Robinowitz, because "more than 50 percent of mental health care is
provided by primary care physicians, who still carry old stereotypes and
misconceptions about mental illness."
Robinowitz said that through its "Healthy Minds. Healthy Lives
Web" site, APA is helping to inform the public with the most accurate
and up-to-date information available on mental illnesses and their
More about APA's 2006 "Healthy Minds. Healthy Lives"
campaign is posted on the Web at<www.healthyminds.org>.▪