A new study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry reveals that while more people recognize schizophrenia, alcoholism, and depression as legitimate diseases, they still reject people afflicted with them.
Researchers at Indiana University found that between 1996 and 2006, the public shifted its view of schizophrenia, alcoholism, and depression. In 1996, 54% of participants attributed depression to genetic causes, a figured that rose to 67% in 2006. In 1996, 61% of participants supported treatment for people suffering from alcoholism, while 79% did in 2006.
Despite a more neurobiological understanding of these conditions, people also expressed less sympathy for those affected by them. Somehow, the more a person believes a condition to be genetic, the more likely they are to stigmatize someone suffering from it. As author Bernice Pescosolido concludes, “More of the public embraces a neurobiological understanding of mental illness. This view translates into support for services but not a decrease in stigma.”
The researchers don’t speculate about why, which is a shame, because the results are clearly counterintuitive and strike a serious blow to those who have spent years working to decrease the stigma of mental illness by trying to prove that people don’t choose to become addicted or depressed. Do we somehow respect people who willfully drag themselves into drinking and depression because something in us admires individual choice, even if it’s harmful?
This much is clear: people are strange.