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New Survey Shows Changes in Attitudes Toward Mental Illness

Aired September 27, 2000 - 1:46 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: A new survey suggests that public attitudes toward mental illness have changed in recent years. Experts say that, while some of those new attitudes are more enlightened, others are not.

Here's CNN's Brian Palmer.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRIAN PALMER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Kathleen Rhoads was a popular teenager growing up in the Seattle suburbs.

KATHLEEN RHOADS: Everything was going really well and I was the drill team captain and I was in drama and I had a lot of friends.

And suddenly, you know, not too much after that, I was in a psychiatric unit with no friends.

PALMER: Seventeen years later, with treatment for manic depression, understanding from her family and her own perseverance, Rhoads runs the job training program for adults with mental illness at New York's Fountain House.

RHOADS: I think it is safer to, probably, talk about mental illness, but it's still risky. It's still risky to go ahead and disclose something like that.

PALMER: A new report of Americans' attitudes compiled over 45 years, called "Americans' Views of Mental Health and Illness at Century's End," confirms that some perceptions of mental illness have changed.

In 1950, most Americans thought mental illness was caused by character flaws, bad parenting, or even God's will. Now, people are more likely to cite stress, heredity and chemical imbalance as causes.

More Americans are taking prescription drugs and visiting mental health professionals, and more accept that they have disorders; but they are less accepting of mental illness in others.

LAURIE FLYNN, NATIONAL ALLIANCE FOR THE MENTALLY ILL: I think the term "mentally ill" still has a scary connotation to many people. You and I have problems; somebody else has an illness. PALMER: People are much more likely to associate the mentally ill with violence than they did in 1950. That's been a growing misperception, says one of the study's authors.

DR. BRUCE LINK, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY: The amount that people with mental illness contribute to rates of violence is tiny.

PALMER: Mental health professionals say reports of violence committed by the mentally ill should be balanced by showing people living successfully with mental illness, but they're not.

RHOADS: It's hard to find successful stories. It's hard to hear about somebody that's coping with a major mental illness and is making it every day, that is actually contributing to the world.

PALMER: But that, say mental health advocates, is what life is like for most people with mental illness.

Brian Palmer, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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