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Public is more Negative toward Drug Addicts than the Mentally Ill

Update Date: Oct 02, 2014 12:09 PM EDT

Drug addicts and mentally ill people are often stigmatized within society. In a new study, researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health examined public opinion on these two groups and found that the public is more likely to be negative toward drug addicts than the mentally ill.

"While drug addiction and mental illness are both chronic, treatable health conditions, the American public is more likely to think of addiction as a moral failing than a medical condition," explained study leader Colleen L. Barry, PhD, MPP, an associate professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. "In recent years, it has become more socially acceptable to talk publicly about one's struggles with mental illness. But with addiction, the feeling is that the addict is a bad or weak person, especially because much drug use is illegal."

For this study, the researchers interviewed 709 participants from Oct. 30 to Dec. 2, 2013. The sample was considered to be nationally representative. The survey assessed people's opinions toward drug addicts and mentally ill people. The questions were focused on stigma, discrimination treatment and public policy.

The researchers discovered that not only was the public more negative toward drug addicts than the mentally ill, the public was also more likely to oppose policies that benefit drug addicts. 64 percent of the people believed that employers should have the option to deny a drug addict employment, whereas only 25 percent of people agreed with this policy for mentally ill people.

43 percent of the participants were opposed to providing drug addicts health insurance benefits that were the same as the benefits provided to the public at-large. Only 21 percent of the people stated that the mentally ill should not get the same health benefits as everyone else.

The team found that 22 percent of the people stated that they would work on a job with a person that has a drug addiction. On the other hand, 62 percent of the participants stated that they would work with someone with a mental illness.

Furthermore, about three in 10 people stated that a full recovery from a mental illness or a drug addiction is an impossible task.

"The more shame associated with drug addiction, the less likely we as a community will be in a position to change attitudes and get people the help they need," said another study author, Beth McGinty, PhD, MS, an assistant professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, reported in the press release. "If you can educate the public that these are treatable conditions, we will see higher levels of support for policy changes that benefit people with mental illness and drug addiction."

The study, "Stigma, Discrimination, Treatment Effectiveness, and Policy: Public Views About Drug Addiction and Mental Illness," was published in the journal, Psychiatric Services.

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