Is the stigma about mental illness fading? OBERLAND finds that attitudes are changing

May 18, 2022

Is the stigma about mental illness fading? OBERLAND finds that attitudes are changing

Anthony Vagnoni

Two years into a global pandemic, have attitudes about mental illness changed significantly? That was the overriding question we wanted to explore as we undertook a survey of opinions and viewpoints on the issue of mental illness in 2022. Timed to coincide with the start of Mental Health Awareness Month in the US, we’re sharing the survey’s findings as a way of calling attention to this problem as we experience the continued aftershocks of the pandemic and its accompanying anxieties.

A bit of backstory: This new survey is an update to a similar survey done in 2013 by OBERLAND’s leaders, prior to their founding of our agency. It was undertaken on behalf of NAMI NYC (, the New York Metro chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness ( Its goal then was to get a stronger grasp on the public’s understanding of mental illness and those who suffer from its myriad conditions and symptoms.

As an agency, OBERLAND has worked with NAMI in the past, and its mission has always been close to our hearts. We feel the issue of mental health, particularly the stigma surrounding mental illness, is of heightened importance today in light of the surge in mental health issues among young people and other segments of society.

Our updated survey, conducted online earlier this year, was prompted by the changing dialogue surrounding mental illness; it was intended to track current opinions and values and determine where and how perceptions may have shifted. Over 600 people took part, with a third of them based in the New York metro area. We’ll be revealing some of our most notable findings via a series of infographics posted on our social channels during Mental Health Awareness Month. We’re also sharing them with our community of media, marketing and advertising influencers.

Among the toplines is that the stigma surrounding mental illness is improving, yet still remains, especially when it comes to sharing mental health conditions in the workplace. We also found that access to effective treatment remains a challenge, which represents an area in need of improvement.

For example, more Americans now agree (65 percent in our survey) that having a mental illness is no different than having any other illness like diabetes, high blood pressure or asthma – a 23 percent increase from 2013. This shows significant improvement in mental illness being seen the same as physical illness.

Further, 41 percent strongly agree that people with a mental illness can lead normal lives if they’re treated effectively – an increase of 37 percent from 2013.

The survey also shows that people increasingly believe qualities like creativity, intelligence and caring are higher among people with mental illnesses – an increase of approximately 15 percent since 2013.

“It’s encouraging to see the stigma around mental illness trending in the right direction,” said OBERLAND CEO Drew Train. “This fits in with what NAMI is trying to do with its Pledge to be Stigma Free, which we strongly support.

Attitudes about mental illness continue to move in the right direction, our survey indicated.

“We wanted to get people to think deeper about the changing landscape of mental health by illustrating the changes in attitudes reflected in these studies, conducted years apart,” Train said of the agency’s social media campaign. “In light of the pressures we’ve all been under since the pandemic began – and particularly in light of the mental health toll it’s taken on young people – it’s important for us as a society to view mental illness in the most objective, progressive and sympathetic way. We see this as one important way to break obstacles to people seeking or obtaining treatment."

Additionally, the 2022 survey found that, overall, people today have more awareness, understanding, and acceptance of mental illness. Among the highlights of the responses are:

  • Google search trends have risen significantly since 2013 on on such terms as “mental health,” “anxiety” and “therapist.” 
  • Awareness of mental health organizations is up  significantly compared to 2013. Back then, 64 percent of people reported having heard of mental health organizations like Mental Health Advocacy Coalition, NAMI, Mental Health Association, the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation, the National Mental Health Association, the American Psychiatric Association and the National Institute of Mental Health. Today, 93 percent of respondents report being aware of those organizations. 

But not everything surrounding the issue of mental illness is improving, Train warned. “Although there’s greater understanding and acceptance, we’d be fooling ourselves to say that the prejudice against people with mental illness has vanished, particularly when it comes to the workplace,” he observed. The survey found that: 

  • Thirty percent of respondents say the prejudice has  gotten worse – a 14 percent rise since 2013. 
  • In 2022, about 8 out of 10 people said it’s not okay to tell coworkers about your mental illnesses – a small but largely insignificant increase from 2013. This comes at a time when employers are making stronger efforts to address mental health issues at the office or job site. 

There’s also been little to no change in the accessibility of care:

  • Across the US, the ease of finding support for mental illnesses has stayed the same since 2013: 19 percent say it’s very easy, 31percent say it’s somewhat easy, 50 percent say it’s not easy.
  • Among New Yorkers, where access to mental health care   would presumably be more readily available, the amount of people who found it ‘very easy’ to find professional help went from eight to 18 percent.  While a significant increase, it remains well under a quarter of the sample. 
Workplace acceptance of mental health issues, however, continues to lag.

The outlook for improving the mental health picture is mixed, said Train. “As stigma decreases and public attitudes soften, more people will feel comfortable seeking treatment, which will strain our already stressed mental health services – so this is another area where communities and employers will need to focus their attention. 

“And we need to mount a concerted effort to change opinions about mental health issues and the workplace, which is where we believe future anti-stigma campaigns should be concentrated,” Train added. “When the stigma surrounding mental health is erased, we’ll be able to say we’ve made real progress.”

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