AMERICANS ARE MORE WILLING TO ADMIT TO HAVING MENTAL HEALTH PROBLEMS
by Ralph Swindle, Jr., Ph.D., Kenneth Heller, Ph.D.,
Bernice Pescosolido, Ph.D., and Saeko Kikuzawa, Ph.D.
The percentage of Americans who report ever feeling like they were about to
have a "nervous breakdown" has increased in the last 40 years. The two
Americans View Their Mental Health Surveys were administered in 1957
to 2,460 adults and to 2,264 adults in 1976. In 1996, the General Social
Survey was administered to 1,444 adults. The surveys were designed to
measure the past and current profile of the public's view of their own
mental health. All the participants were asked whether they ever felt
they were having a nervous breakdown, and if so, how they responded
to this feeling.
According to lead author Ralph Swindle, Jr., Ph.D.,
who analyzed the survey results, American's perceptions of their mental
health status have changed over the past four decades. In 1957, 19 percent
of the participants reported ever feeling they were going to have a
nervous breakdown; in 1976, 21 percent of the participants reported
an impending nervous breakdown; and in 1996, 26 percent of the participants
reported feeling like they were having a nervous breakdown.
major changes over the forty-year period in people's responses to the
feelings of having a nervous breakdown include: an increased use of
informal supports (friends and family), a decline in seeking physician's
assistance (44% in 1957 to 18% in 1996) and an increase in seeking out
non-medical mental health professionals, like psychologists, social
workers and counselors (0.6% in 1957 to 18% in 1996).
in 1957 for feeling like they are having a nervous breakdown were most
likely to be attributed to health problems, said the authors. But in
1996, the most frequented cited events related to impending nervous
breakdowns were divorce, marital strains and separation and troubles
with members of the opposite sex.
Americans appear to be more willing
to admit to having feelings of an impending nervous breakdown and about
the reasons for it than they were 40 years ago, and non-medical mental
health specialists are increasingly seen as appropriate resources for
these problems, said Dr. Swindle.
"We didn't find that demographics
played much of a role in more Americans feeling a breakdown in their
mental health," said the authors. "It could be either a change in the
prevalence of psychological problems or a lessening of the stigma associated
with admitting that one is going to have a nervous breakdown or both."
To protect people from declining mental health, mental health policies
should be aimed at prevention and focus on building coping skills, fostering
stress resilience and strengthening ties with family and friends.
Article: "Responses to Nervous Breakdowns
in America Over a 40 Year Period: Mental Health Policy Implications,"
Ralph Swindle, Jr., Ph.D., Kenneth Heller, Ph.D., Bernice Pescosolido,
Ph.D., and Saeko Kikuzawa, Ph.D., Roudebush Veterans Affairs Medical
Center, Indiana University, Bloomington and Indiana Consortium for Mental
Health Services Research, American Psychologist, Vol. 55, No. 7.
Ralph Swindle, Jr., Ph.D., can be reached by
telephone at (317) 433-5865