Lack of support for common mental illnesses

Lack of support for common mental illnesses

By Margaret Rogers

The definitions of mental disorders are expanding all the time and as they do it seems that people with more common forms of mental illness, such as depression, enjoy less support from their friends and family, a new research study suggests.

The author of the study, Brea L. Perry, studied interviews conducted with 165 participants who have bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, major depression, as well as those with less severe disorders.  The participants were all undergoing first-time treatment for their disorders.

It was found that individuals who had more socially-accepted and commonplace disorders did not get strong reactions to their conditions from friends, family members or others that they had contact with.  It is believed that there is a reluctance to provide caregiving from an individual’s support network as diagnoses become more common.  Furthermore, it was found that family members and friends may experience difficulty in accepting or excusing a sufferer of common mental health disorders, if their behaviour deviates from the norm.

‘Perhaps because so many people are diagnosed and subsequently treated successfully, signs of depression do not alarm friends and family members to the same degree as disorders known to severely affect functioning,’ Perry says.

The pubic does not always consider commonplace mental illness such as depression as a reasonable cause for taking on a ‘sick’ role despite the fact that they are clearly defined by professionals as legitimate medical conditions.  Paradoxically, when someone receives a diagnosis with a severe mental illness such as schizophrenia, the perception is very different.

In cases of severe mental illness, such as the manic phase of bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, a diagnosis often leads to social stigma and an increased amount of rejection and discrimination by friends, family members, and strangers.  However it appears a diagnosis of severe mental illness results in the creation of a stronger social support system from family and friends, the researchers suggest.

‘Day-to-day emotional and instrumental support is likely to play a critical role in recovery from mental illness,’ Perry concluded.  Support is crucial for the recovery from all severities of mental illness.

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