An article published in New Ideas in Psychology hypothesizes that mental health awareness efforts in Western countries may be partially responsible for the rise of mental health problems those countries are experiencing. Psychologists Lucy Foulkes from the University of Oxford in the UK and Jack Andrews from the University of New South Wales in Australia wrote the article.
Foulkes and Andrews argue that the increase in mental health problems in places pushing greater mental health awareness likely involves at least two precipitating factors. First, more people with mental health problems accurately report symptoms that would have been under-reported, ignored, or dismissed if not for greater mental health awareness. Second, some people with mild forms of distress incorrectly interpret their experience as a mental health problem.
According to the authors, the latter case can lead to mental health problems that would have otherwise not existed due to the power of labeling. They write:
“First, we argue that mental health awareness efforts are leading to more accurate reporting of previously under-recognized symptoms, a beneficial outcome. Second, and more problematically, we propose that awareness efforts are leading some individuals to interpret and report milder forms of distress as mental health problems. We propose that this then leads some individuals to experience a genuine increase in symptoms because labeling distress as a mental health problem can affect an individual’s self-concept and behavior in a way that is ultimately self-fulfilling.”
Mental Health Awareness Campaigns May Actually Lead to Increases in Mental Distress