How? By boosting the employability, productivity and incomes of people
afflicted by psychiatric conditions, according to the
study, published Thursday by the RAND Corporation, a Santa Monica-based policy
The study showed that people in need of mental health treatment who were
exposed to the anti-stigma message of the social marketing campaign were
more likely to seek help. Those who get treatment have a significantly
higher chance of finding good-paying jobs, thus contributing more tax
dollars to state coffers, it said.
“This is an important finding,” said Alejandra Acuña,
an assistant professor of social work at California State University,
Northridge. “Social marketing campaigns have been used with great
results to change behavior and address public health concerns like nutrition
and HIV testing.”
“Universal approaches like social marketing target entire communities,
so by their very nature they are not stigmatizing and a great opportunity
to shift social norms,” she said.
The Rand study examined an effort launched in 2011 by the California Mental
Health Services Authority (CalMHSA), a coalition of counties, to improve
the mental health of Californians.
An important part of the media campaign was a
documentary that recounts the stories of California residents who have suffered from
mental illness and recovered. It was broadcast numerous times on public
television stations, showed to community groups and other audiences and
is posted on the CalMHSA-funded website,
Another key element of the campaign was an online discussion forum for
adults 18 to 24 years old,
ReachOut.com, where people can log on to seek or provide emotional support or help
in relationships, school or work.
CalMHSA’s stigma-busting efforts are funded by the California Mental
Health Services Act, also known as Proposition 63, which imposes a 1 percent
tax on incomes of $1 million or more to fund county mental health programs.
“The goal is to change the conversation [about mental health] in
our society by increasing knowledge and changing attitudes,” said
Wayne Clark, executive director of CalMHSA. “The better mental health
people have, the more productive citizens they will be.”
Scott Ashwood, lead author of the RAND study, said an estimated 121,000
people per year seek mental health treatment after being exposed to a
social marketing campaign’s anti-stigma, anti-discrimination message.
The Rand study authors surveyed a sample of 1,066 Californians who had
previously reported “mild to serious” psychological distress,
and found that 35 percent of them had been exposed to social media messages
related to reducing the stigma of mental illness. That group of people
was more likely to have received treatment.
The study also provides some hard numbers on the financial return of these
efforts. Its authors calculated that for each $1 invested in spreading
the message, the state government will ultimately reap $36 in extra tax
dollars. And for the state as a whole, that $1 will generate $1,251 in
economic benefits, according to the study.
Ashwood said it was difficult to put a dollar value on all the benefits
of reducing stigma and discrimination, so the study could actually underestimate
The authors derived their estimate of the financial benefit by looking
at people who got jobs after treatment or who missed fewer work days because
their mental health improved.
Discrimination against people with mental health illnesses continues to
be a serious social problem, experts say, though many of them think society
is headed in the right direction.
And stigma in the eyes of others isn’t the only problem.
“Part of it has to with a person’s own self-perception,”
said Tom Loats, director of behavioral health at St. Joseph Hospital in
Orange, Calif. “People believe they have to pull themselves up by
their own bootstraps. That’s silly. You can’t do that for
diabetes or heart disease.”
Jenny Delacruz, behavioral health program director at Anaheim Global Medical
Center, which has a large psychiatric ward, said she believes that greater
social acceptance of people with mental illness makes them more comfortable
in their own skin and eases their assimilation back into society.
“If they recognize and accept their illness, they will seek treatment
and function better,” Delacruz said. But they have to jump through
the stigma barrier, she said, that’s where these social media campaign
efforts can help.