Discrimination against youth with mental health challenges begins early and increases over time, causing attitudes to become ingrained.1 Despite the fact that an overwhelming majority of Americans believe that people with mental illnesses are not to blame for their conditions (84 percent), only about 57.3 percent believe that people are generally caring and sympathetic toward individuals with mental illnesses.2 This percentage is much lower (24.6 percent) for those who themselves suffer poor mental health.3
Discrimination and misconceptions about people with mental illnesses is prevalent for youth and young adults.4 Findings from the 2006 HealthStyles Survey suggest that, for young adults between the ages of 18 and 24,
Discrimination associated with mental illness poses a large barrier to recovery and is one of the main reasons why people don’t seek help and treatment.5 Further, an unwillingness to seek help because of the negative attitudes attached to mental health and substance abuse disorders or to suicidal thoughts has been found to be one of the risk factors associated with suicide.6
Youth are a key population on which to focus discrimination reduction efforts, as they are more likely than the general public to know someone with a mental illness, and therefore have a unique opportunity to make a difference.7 The National Annenberg Survey of Youth conducted a large scale study on these negative attitudes and found that youth who were informed with facts and able to dispel myths about individuals with mental health disorders were less likely to discriminate against them. They concluded that various approaches have promise in decreasing negative attitudes and discrimination, such as the use of mass media to influence the attitudes of youth and educating students by incorporating persons with mental health disorders as speakers in classroom presentations and discussions.8
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has launched an anti-discrimination campaign called What a Difference a Friend Makes. The premise of the campaign is that recovery from mental illness is more likely in a society that is accepting, and that provides education and support from friends. Through acceptance and social inclusion, individuals who have behavioral health challenges or mental illness can be contributing members of their families and communities.
SAMHSA suggests everyone can do something to help a person with mental illness by
In addition, understanding and accepting friends play an important role in recovery.
What a Difference a Friend Makes
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration launched the Mental Health Campaign for Mental Health Recovery to encourage, educate, and inspire people between 18 and 25 to support their friends who are experiencing mental health problems. The site provides information to dispel myths about mental health problems, shares stories of youth and young adults who have struggled with mental health problems, and provides resources to encourage youth and young adults to support others with mental health problems.
1 Wahl, 2002
2 SAMHSA, 2006; CDC, 2007
3 CDC, 2007
4 SAMHSA, 2006; CDC, 2007
5 SAMHSA, 2006
6 CDC, 2010
7 SAMHSA, 2006
8 Romer, 2003
9 SAMHSA, 2006 p. 3
10 SAMHSA, 2006 p. 3
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