Stigma toward people with depression has dropped significantly for the first time since national data have been tracked in the United States, a new study shows.

Stigma levels for other mental illnesses, however, have remained stagnant and, in some cases, have increased.

The findings can help shape treatment of those with mental illness and have an impact on anti-stigma programs and policies to help people find support, the researchers say.

“Stigma is broad and pervasive and, up till now, has been notoriously stubborn to change efforts,” says coauthor Bernice Pescosolido, professor of sociology at the Indiana University-Bloomington.

“Stigma translates into so many issues, including people’s reluctance to seek care, our shortage of mental health professionals, and the US’ unwillingness to invest resources into the mental health sector. The good news from this study is stigma can change, and the change we document crosses all sectors of society and individuals.”

For the study in JAMA Network Open, researchers examined how stigma has changed over two decades for mental health disorders such as schizophrenia, major depression, and alcohol dependence. Researchers used data from the US National Stigma Studies, which are part of the General Social Survey, to examine public stigma over a 22-year period at three key points: in 1996, 2006, and 2018.

The team looked at how the public understands the causes underlying individuals’ problems; whether they can identify psychiatric cases from daily problems; their perceptions of what people with different mental illness are like; and their willingness to interact with individuals with mental illnesses in various social contexts.

Read the full article about mental health stigma by April Toler at Futurity.