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This paper explores the shift in stigma on depression between generations. According to a survey conducted by Mental Health America (MHA), Americans are more knowledgeable about mental health illnesses now, than they were in the past, there is still a vast proportion of people still uncomfortable with the idea of a mental health illness (2007).The research group conducted this project with intentions to examine differences in levels of stigma between the older generation (ages 39-45) and the younger generation (ages 17-23), which might result in failure to seek for professional help, regarding their mental health.
After conducting an online survey, with both multiple choice and open ended questions, we found and were able to confirm the older generation’s stigma towards depression.
Our group set out to discover if there is still a remaining stigma on depression from the older generation, and if so, how exactly. We hypothesized that the older generation (ranging from ages 39-45) has cultivated biases towards depression that has created a stigma, making their generation less likely to reach out for professional help as opposed to the younger generation (ranging from ages 17-23).
We were able to achieve this by conducting an online survey, shared through multiple platforms, that included an open ended answer option for some of the questions, for deeper explanation. We decided to study this topic because mental health and depression are some of the most significant, prevalent social issues today. We have seen world wide how depression is denied and rejected in many cultures, and how that has created many social issues.
People are now more comfortable with speaking out for reformations for the mental health system, and many more are sharing their stories regarding their journeys with depression. With all this information and resources out there, we wondered: Does the older generation continue to have the stigma that they grew up with?
According to the Anxiety and Depression association of America (ADAA), over 16.1 million Americans (around 6.7%) suffer with depression every year. This is a condition that can develop at any age and only 61.7% of people suffering with major depressive disorder are currently seeking treatment. Conditions like schizophrenia used to be seen an incurable, there was no way to “recover” from them, and depression and anxiety began to get grouped into these diagnoses as well (Hasan & Musleh, 2018). Perceptions and diagnoses like these may be a reason why older generations have a stigma against depression. Stigma also varies amongst cultures. Collins, Roth, Cerully, and Wong (2014) found that Asian Americans were the least likely to associate with people with mental illness and, amongst all the ethnic groups, Latinos were the least likely to want to work with someone who was exhibiting symptoms of mental illness. The culture barrier amongst Latinos between acceptance of mental health disorder and the opposite was distinguished when it was found that nearly four times more Latinos who answered the survey in Spanish stated they did not want to associate with someone experiencing symptoms of PTSD than Latinos who answered the survey in English (Collins et al., 2014).
In a different study conducted by Collins et al. (2014), they found that the older generation were less likely to want association with mentally ill people, compared to the younger generation. Present day, the media serves as a main news outlet for many individuals in America. Peter Byrne (2000) argues that the media is responsible for painting a bad picture for mental illness, “giving the public narrowly focused stories based around stereotypes.” Instead, he argues that media should be use an outlet for psychiatrists to break the silence and advocate for reforms in the mental health community. Stigma against mental illness affects not only those who suffer with them, but the ability to collect information regarding them. A Finnish study that sent out 10,000 survey questions regarding attitudes towards mental health and depression only got about 55.2% of those responses (Aromaa, Tolvanen, Tuulari, and Wahlbeck, 2009). Harvard’s medical association agrees that since availability to medications has increased, treatment is becoming more widespread along with there being greater public awareness, less stigmas, more effective diagnosis, outreach programs, etc. (Harvard Health Publishing, 2014)
To conduct our research, the group composed a 15 question survey using Google Forms, and distributed it using many social media platforms, including Instagram, Snapchat, and Facebook. We also chose to distribute it to peers and coworkers using email and text. The online format of this survey made it easy to distribute and more accessible for outside parties to reach. The survey was focused on the stigma behind depression and how that might impact a respondent’s decision to seek help, depending if they were from the older or younger generation we were analyzing. To find this information, the survey included demographic questions, including age and ethnicity, so that we could be able to note differences amongst the different groups. We also offered open ended options for respondents to share a different response or elaborate on an answer. This feature allowed us to find patterns in reasoning as to why some respondents wouldn't seek (or encourage others to find) help from a professional mental health specialist. This project utilizes inductive reasoning since we’re analyzing an entire generation based on the responses of a few.
The results of the survey were not straightforward and the older generation did not fall short compared to the younger generation every time. However, if you analyze the questions individually and relatively, you can note that while the older generation still has what remains of a cultivated stigma against depression, the paradigm is shifting and the numbers are not as high as we hypothesized they’d be. When asked how open their ethnic communities were in acknowledging or dealing with mental health issues on a scale from 1-5, across all ethnicities, the older generation reported higher scores of openness compared to the younger generation. When asked the same question about openness, but this time regarding their own families, the younger generation reported lower scores than the older generation, meaning that their families were less open to recognize mental health. The older generation reported that their families are more open. (It’s worth noting that the younger generation’s family is likely the older generation, and vice versa).
A majority of the younger generation believes that people should not be ashamed to go to therapy, whereas the older generation had a split decision between “people should be ashamed” and “people should keep that private”. However, most, if not all, of both generations do believe that therapy is beneficial and people with depression should seek professional help.
When asked if they would encourage a loved one to seek help, more of the younger generation said they would and more of the older generation said they would not.
Over 75% of respondents from the younger generation believes that therapy is necessary when dealing with a mental health issue, while only 50% of the older generation agreed.
Stigma in both generations is still existent, and can be proven, since over half of respondents from both generations stated they have held back, or have known someone to, from seeking therapy, out of fear of judgement.
Although the older generation didn’t outnumber the younger generation in every question regarding acceptance of mental health, overall, we are able to see that the older generation still has a cultivated bias against depression.
We used several different frameworks to analyze our hypothesis and results. Agreement reality is information you believe because others have told you so. We believe that the older generation likely practices agreement reality more than the younger generation, since they grew up with a mindset that mental health is not a serious issue and people with such mental health problems are “crazy”. Due to these perceptions, the older generation would not be likely to attend therapy out of fear of being mocked and judged. Structural functionalism allows us to view this issue as a society and see how the acceptance/acceptance of mental health can be beneficial or harmful to our society. This perspective includes manifest and latent functions that help further action and see this end result. A manifest function is that institutions can provide access to more resources and spread awareness of such. Latent functions including focusing in on this awareness and shine light on those who self diagnose incorrectly and who are glamorizing depression. We were also able to apply macro and micro theory to our project. Macro theory is relevant to mental health, since there are so many large institutions that affect mental health. The government is a huge influencer right now since they have the power to control legislation and create federal programs that could improve mental health. By focusing on smaller demographics like age and gender, we were able to analyze how these factors can influence individuals and their perspectives on mental health. One of the more prominent perspectives we could apply to this research is paradigm shift. The younger generation has clearly changed their feelings about mental health versus the older generation. The older generation was raised to believe that mental health is a taboo subject and something must be wrong with you if you need to go see a therapist. Times have changed. The younger generation has more access to resources to tell them otherwise and, as a result, they are more open to discussing this topic amongst each other and publicly.
Our group set out to study the differences in stigma regarding depression between the older generation and the younger generation. Both generations were raised in different environments the older generation saw the entire topic as taboo, whereas the younger generation is very open to the mental health discussion, and many advocate for change. We created an online survey to distribute amongst various social media platforms, since this was the easiest and most effective way to get anonymous results. Through our survey about opinions and personal experiences regarding mental health, we were able to conclude that our hypothesis was correct and the older generation does seem to have a higher stigma against depression, in comparison to the younger generation.
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