Public Release: 

IU research at the American Sociological Association meeting

Indiana University

STIGMA SURROUNDING MENTAL ILLNESS REMAINS DESPITE ABUNDANT PHARMACEUTICAL ADS

The medicalization of such mental illnesses as depression and bipolar disorder, which have seen prescription drug advertisements on TV skyrocket since such advertising became permissible in 1997, has done nothing to remove the harmful stigma attached to the illnesses, according to sociologists from Indiana University and the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.

"The findings fly in the face of current thinking about ways that stigma can be reduced," said Peggy Thoits, Virginia L. Roberts Professor of Sociology in IU's College of Arts and Sciences.

Stigma has posed a steadfast obstacle to the treatment of many mental health illnesses. Negative perceptions of mental illness color the support and advice people get from their friends, family and even their physicians and can create a reluctance to seek help.

The study by Thoits and lead author Andrew R. Payton, graduate student at University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, sought to see if attitudes toward mental illness have changed since the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued new guidelines allowing pharmaceutical companies to air TV ads.

Theoretically, when a condition such as depression comes to be viewed as a treatable medical condition instead of a moral failing or spiritual condition, this should reduce the blame and stigma attached to depression. The researchers examined the Mental Health Modules in the General Social Survey during these intervening years and saw no change in attitudes toward people with mental illness, specifically when they compared depression, which was a focus of many TV commercials, to schizophrenia, for which no drugs have been advertised.

"We're making a big assumption, that marketing drugs to treat some these conditions is actually penetrating the consciousness of viewers, giving them the ability to recognize symptoms and conceptualize them as disorders and to see that these disorders can be relieved essentially with drugs," Thoits said.

The study will be presented on Monday, Aug. 10, in the Parc 55 Hotel from 2:30 p.m. to 4:10 p.m., in the session Medical Institutions and Mental Health. Thoits can be reached at pthoits@indiana.edu.

POLARIZATION AND AMERICAN POLITICS

A common refrain: "There's not a dime's worth of difference between the two political parties." A recent study by Kyle Dodson, a graduate student in Indiana University Bloomington's Department of Sociology, indicates that Americans have put this complaint to rest. According to his research, Americans' perceptions of major differences between the parties have increased steadily since the 1980s, leading to a dramatic increase in different forms of political participation.

"The increasing awareness of party differences isn't coming from thin air," Dodson said. "Americans are tracking real changes that are going on with the parties. Over the past 30 years, they've become polarized in their policy agendas and people are noticing."

This change could not have occurred at a better time.

"A lot of research suggests that Americans are more socially isolated today than at any point in the past two to three decades. Normally, this would depress political participation. But the rise of partisan politics has given Americans an important reason to get involved."

Dodson will discuss his research on Tuesday, Aug. 11, at 10:30 a.m., during the Voting and Electoral Processes session in the San Francisco Hilton. He can be reached at kydodson@indiana.edu.

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