Oct 8, 2019

Mental health stigma may be getting worse

Animated illustration of a suit-clad forearm holding a pendant showing a a no symbol over a brain, swinging back and forth.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Mental health stigma is back on the rise, thanks to the political response to mass shootings, a new study featured in Health Affairs says.

Why it matters: President Trump and other politicians have been conflating mental illness with violence — and experts fear that kind of marginalization only makes it harder to live with a mental illness.

What they're saying: "There’s a difference between saying somebody is troubled and is angry and saying they have a brain disorder," said the study's lead author, Bernice Pescosolido of Indiana University.

Associations between mental illness and violence are growing, the study found, as is support for forced treatment of those conditions.

  • In 2018, more than 60% believed people with schizophrenia are dangerous to others.
  • 30% characterized those with depression as likely to be violent toward others.

Reality check: People with mental illness are more likely to be victims of gun violence than perpetrators of anonymous mass shootings, according to the American Psychiatric Association.

  • Mental health reporting laws, which both Republicans and Democrats have endorsed, are not as effective as background checks and safe storage laws, Wired reports.

The bottom line: Progress has been made in reducing the stigma of mental illness, but that progress is fragile at best.

Go deeper