IU sociologist appointed to National Academy of Sciences committee

Post by IU Communications colleague Milana Katic:

As we all learned from the shocking death of Robin Williams last summer, mental health disorders are often hidden in plain sight.

According to the World Health Organization, depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reports that only 39 percent of people with mental health disorders actually get treatment.

So why is such a widespread health issue so kept so silent? Perhaps it’s due to the equally as widespread stigmatization of mental health disorders.

Bernice Pescosolido

Bernice Pescosolido

Bernice Pescosolido, Distinguished Professor in the Department of Sociology in the College of Arts and Sciences, has dedicated a large portion of her research to finding an answer to why mental health stigma is such an issue and how it develops.

Recently, her work has earned her a spot on the National Academy of Sciences and the National Research Council’s Committee on the Science of Changing Behavioral Health Social Norms, dedicated to assisting the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration in communicating ways to change attitudes and behaviors about mental health disorders in the U.S.

“We’re pulling together everything we know about the stigma of mental illness and reaching out to experts in areas such as HIV and epilepsy to help craft national messages to reduce stigma in attitudes and behaviors, and, more importantly, in discrimination,” Pescosolido said.

Pescosolido went on to say that part of the issue is mental health stigmatization touches more than just the person affected with a mental health disorder – it also affects their family and mental health care providers. She also noted that one of the most forgotten issues stemming from mental health stigma is the lack of information about where and how to get treatment.

The committee hopes to implement change in these areas, as well as improve social acceptance of people with mental health issues, expand the public’s knowledge of the various outcomes of leaving a mental health disorder untreated and teach citizens the importance of seeking help for these issues, whether it be for a friend, family member or themselves.

Pescosolido’s research will be assisted in part by her colleagues at the Indiana Consortium for Mental Health Services Research.

“We have an opportunity here to work with other stellar national and international colleagues, and that’s an incredible experience,” Pescosolido said. “It’ll help push our research initiatives to help serve the nation.”

And, in turn, it will hopefully change national attitudes for the better.

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