October 2, 2017

New poll: Progress and persistent myths about mental health

Findings reveal stigma, misperceptions lead to silence on mental health issues.

Kaiser Permanente’s “Find Your Words” campaign encourages hope, sparks conversations

OAKLAND, Calif.  — Despite a growing openness toward mental health issues and conditions, stigma and misperceptions still exist that may prevent people from speaking up and getting help. That's according to results of a new national consumer poll released today by Kaiser Permanente as part of its national public health awareness effort, "Find Your Words."

The nation's largest integrated health system conducted the poll of more than 3,000 people across the nation in August to assess attitudes and perceptions toward mental health. Seventy percent of those polled said that people are more open about discussing mental health issues and conditions today compared to 10 years ago. Yet more than half indicated they believe a family member or friend was struggling with a mental health issue but not telling them.

Although more than three out of four of those surveyed said they are informed about mental health issues, the poll showed there are lingering misperceptions that need to be addressed. For instance, almost a quarter of millennials believe that most people with a mental health issue or condition can get well on their own without professional help. While many people can manage mental health issues on their own based on individual circumstances, research has shown that treatment for depression and other mental health issues does work.

photo of Don Mordecai, MD Don Mordecai, MD

Furthermore, more than half of those polled indicated they viewed depression as caused in part by a personal weakness or failing, which mental health professionals say is troubling and inaccurate.

"The poll uncovered contradictions in people's beliefs and attitudes which affirm the need to do more to correct misperceptions and help reduce stigma," said Don Mordecai, MD, the national leader for Mental Health and Wellness at Kaiser Permanente and director of Mental Health & Addiction Medicine Services for The Permanente Medical Group. "For example, depression can be linked to many causes, such as chemical imbalances, genetics or childhood trauma. None of these are the fault of the person living with the condition."

People cited fear of stigma, embarrassment and shame as the top reasons why others would not reach out to trusted family and friends when struggling with a mental health issue or condition.

There is encouraging news: Of those who believed they had a friend or loved one struggling with a mental health issue or condition, a majority reported they had reached out, offering to talk or suggest professional help, which is what mental health professionals agree is the right approach.

"Talking about depression can be challenging for anyone — whether you're living with it and want to ask for support, or you want to help someone but don't know what to say," explained Dr. Mordecai. "Speaking up and asking for help or offering to help is the first step towards treatment and recovery."

To help spark a conversation, Kaiser Permanente's "Find Your Words" website features a host of resources for those affected by mental health conditions, including how to start a conversation, recognizing symptoms of depression, a self-assessment tool and information on how to get help. Digital spots are aimed at increasing awareness of what to do when a friend or family member may be suffering.

To provide an additional resource on the website, Kaiser Permanente has partnered with StoryCorps, a national oral-history project, to feature real conversations between people who have experienced mental health conditions such as depression and the loved ones who supported them throughout.

"Treatments for depression and mental health conditions work, but people who keep their depression hidden are far less likely to seek help," said Dr. Mordecai. "By sharing stories of people successfully managing mental health conditions and issues, our hope is that others will have the courage to either seek help for their own condition or be inspired to talk to a friend or loved one."

About the poll

Kaiser Permanente commissioned KRC Research to conduct a 15-minute online poll among a total of 3,005 U.S. adults from August 10-16, 2017. It was offered in both English and Spanish, according to the respondent's choice. The purpose of the poll was to measure public attitudes, behaviors, beliefs and barriers to a more open dialogue on depression and mental health, across gender, geography, generation and race/ethnicity. Quotas and weighting were applied to ensure the sample is demographically representative of the U.S. population (region, sex, age, ethnicity/race, education and income), based on census data.

About Kaiser Permanente

Kaiser Permanente, the nation's largest integrated health care system, is committed to helping shape the future of health care. We are recognized as one of America's leading health care providers and not-for-profit health plans. Founded in 1945, Kaiser Permanente has a mission to provide high-quality, affordable health care services and to improve the health of our members and the communities we serve. We currently serve more than 11.8 million members in eight states and the District of Columbia. Care for members and patients is focused on their total health and guided by their personal Permanente Medical Group physicians, specialists and team of caregivers. Our expert and caring medical teams are empowered and supported by industry-leading technology advances and tools for health promotion, disease prevention, state-of-the-art care delivery and world-class chronic disease management. Kaiser Permanente is dedicated to care innovations, clinical research, health education and the support of community health. For more information, go to kp.org/share.