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msJAMA
April 10, 2002

Psychiatry and Stigmatization

Author Affiliations
 

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JAMA. 2002;287(14):1856. doi:10.1001/jama.287.14.1856-JMS0410-2-1

When Murray and Lopez in 1996 introduced the idea of the disability-adjusted life-year (which measures healthy years lost to premature mortality or disability), it should have come as no surprise when they found that 7 of the top 10 causes of disability in industrialized countries were mental disorders. Unipolar major depression and alcohol abuse, the top 2 on this list, caused more years lost to disability than the next 5 combined.1

The public remains reluctant, however, to respond to this public health problem. A 1996 poll found that most people would be unwilling to support paying for mental illness treatment if it would lead to increases in their premiums or taxes.2 Legislators appear similarly reluctant to support measures that would make mental health care more accessible. In his report on mental health, the US surgeon general urged proper public education to remove the misperceptions and stigma of mental illnesses that prevent them from being treated like other types of medical illness.3 This task will likely prove difficult as mental illnesses have suffered from misperception and stigma ever since ancient times.

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