What's in a name? Psychiatrists' labeling practices may be desensitizing the public

April 9, 2012

Does the growing number of psychiatric disorder diagnoses have an effect on people with mental illnesses? According to a new study, as definitions of mental illnesses become broader, people who show signs of depression and other common mental illnesses are less likely to evoke a supportive response from friends and family members as are people with other severe mental disorders. This new study was released in a recent issue of the Journal of Health and Social Behavior.

Author Brea L. Perry studied interviews conducted with 165 individuals with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, , and other less severe disorders, who were undergoing for the first time. She found that those with more socially-accepted and commonplace mental illnesses, such as depression and mild mood disorders, did not receive strong reactions to their conditions from family members, friends, or others with whom they came in contact. Brea stated that as a result, their support networks may be less willing to take on caregiver responsibilities or to excuse them when their behavior deviates from what is considered normal.

Perry wrote, "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."

While commonplace mental illnesses such as depression are clearly defined by professionals as legitimate medical conditions, Perry found that the public does not always deem them as justifiable grounds for taking on a "sick" role.

This study also found that diagnosing someone with a severe mental illness that is more outwardly recognizable such as schizophrenia and the of bipolar disorder can lead to a higher amount of rejection and discrimination by acquaintances and strangers while at the same time creating a stronger social support system among close friends and family.

The author wrote, "Day-to-day emotional and instrumental support is likely to play a critical role in recovery from mental illness."

Explore further: Public is less willing to pay to avoid mental illness than general medical illnes

More information: "The Labeling Paradox: Stigma, the Sick Role, and Social Networks in Mental Illness": hsb.sagepub.com/content/52/4/460.full.pdf+html

Related Stories

'Dogma on mental illness is a threat to progress'

July 12, 2011

It is commonplace for people to hold very firm views about the nature and causes of mental illness, based on hunch, ideological perspective and anecdote. For example, some believe all mental illness is explained by adverse ...

Recommended for you

Helping children achieve more in school

December 7, 2016

Not all children do well in school, despite being intellectually capable. Whilst parental relationships, motivation and self-concept all have a role to play, a recent study published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology ...

Half of people believe fake facts

December 7, 2016

Many people are prone to 'remembering' events that never happened, according to new research by the University of Warwick.

Want to give a good gift? Think past the 'big reveal'

December 6, 2016

Gift givers often make critical errors in gift selection during the holiday season, according to a new research article in Current Directions in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.