The Stigma of Mental Illness in the United States

By Mark I. Levy, M.D.

America today is plagued with a pandemic prejudice against those suffering with mental illness that is crippling our nation. Our society equates mental illness with moral weakness, causing individuals to deny their mental suffering out of fear that they will appear to be morally culpable for it.  In so doing, we are telling these individuals that they are inadequate and not meeting socially acceptable standards

We don’t moralize about physical pain.  For example, when someone has a broken leg, we don’t advise him to, “Shake it off.”  Yet, if the same individual describes his symptoms of depression, we encourage him to, “Get out and exercise…pull yourself up by your bootstraps…you’ll get over it.”  Such advice is useless, inappropriate and blames the sufferer for his illness.

Rather than give in to the great desire to deny the disability caused by mental illness, we need to acknowledge that mental illness is just as valid as physical illness.  We need to view emotional symptoms with the same clinical, objective manner as physical symptoms.  Only then, can we reach out to provide the treatment that will help those suffering and aid them to become contributing members of our society.

Face the Facts of Mental Illness

No. of Americans Suffering from Mental Illness

  • As many as 80 percent of people suffering from mental illnesses can effectively return to normal, productive lives if they receive appropriate treatment.
  • During any one-year period, up to 50 million Americans, more than 22 percent, suffer from a clearly diagnosable mental disorder involving a degree of incapacity that interferes with employment, attendance at school or daily life.

Cost of Mental Illness to Society

  • The direct costs of support and medical treatment of mental illnesses total $55.4 billion a year.
  • The indirect costs, such as lost employment, reduced productivity, criminal activity, vehicular accidents and social welfare programs increase the total cost of mental and substance abuse disorders to more than $273 billion a year.

Efficacy of Treatment for Mental Disorders

  • Medications relieve acute symptoms of schizophrenia in 80 percent of cases, but only about half of all people with schizophrenia seek treatment.
  • With therapy, 80 to 90 percent of the people suffering from depressive disorders can get better, but fewer than one-third of those suffering seek treatment.
  • Refinements of lithium carbonate, used in treating manic-depressive (bipolar) disorder, have led to an estimated annual savings of $8 billion in treatment costs and lost productivity associated with bipolar disorder.
  • Studies of psychotherapy by the National Institute of Mental Health have shown it to be very effective in treating mild to moderate depression.

Statistics gathered from the American Psychiatric Association’s web site:

To interview Dr. Lamia on the topic of social interaction and radio talk shows or Dr. Levy regarding the stigma of mental illness in our society, please call Mary Tressel, Media Consultant, at 925-686-2958.

News Room is published as a service to the media by the San Francisco Foundation for Psychoanalysis.

Scientific Editor: Mark Levy, M.D. (415) 388-8040

Executive Director: Sandra Schaaf (415) 563-6065

Managing Editor: Mary Tressel (925) 686-2958