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Report finds upstate New York 'empathy gap' with mental illness

More than half of upstate New Yorkers believe that people show concern and caring for those with mental illness, although many with mental health issues don’t sense that this is the case, according to a new Univera Healthcare report.

The Western New York insurer used self-reported survey data from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, and found that 46 percent of upstate New York adults who have a depressive disorder feel that people are generally caring and sympathetic to individuals with mental illness.

Some 64 percent of upstate New York adults who have never been diagnosed with a depressive disorder believe that people are generally caring and sympathetic to people with mental illness.


One in five U.S. adults experiences a mental health condition over the course of a year, making mental illness more common than cancer, diabetes or heart disease.


“There’s an empathy gap when it comes to mental illness,” said Dr. Ann E. Griepp, Univera medical director for behavioral health management. “Our analysis of public survey data shines a light on the need for society to bridge that gap.” The National Alliance on Mental Illness, or NAMI, defines mental illness as a condition that affects a person’s thinking, feeling or mood, and may affect an individual’s ability to function and relate to others.

“One in five U.S. adults experiences a mental health condition over the course of a year, making mental illness more common than cancer, diabetes or heart disease,” Griepp said in a news release. Ignorance and myths that surround mental illness “can result in feelings of shame and isolation that can cause affected persons to deny symptoms, delay treatment and refrain from taking part in daily life,” she said.

The World Health Organization and the World Economic Forum report that mental illness represents the biggest economic burden of any health issue. They project that by the year 2030, it will result in $6 trillion in associated health care costs.

According to NAMI, less than half of U.S. adults who had a mental health condition received treatment last year. Univera’s review of the CDC data found that in upstate New York, 15 percent of adults take medication or receive treatment for mental illness.

Four in five upstate New York adults agree that treatment can help people with mental illness, the CDC reported.

Medication reminders, such as pillboxes with alarms and smartphone apps, can help, Griepp said.

“In addition to encouraging people who have a mental illness to get treatment, we can help bridge the empathy gap by reframing how we think about mental illness,” she said. “We can do that by seeing the person and not the illness, and offering him or her support by saying, ‘We will get through this together,’ or ‘I’m here for you.’ ”

Griepp encourages open and honest conversations to help close the empathy gap. “That includes starting conversations between patients and doctors,” she said, “and among family members and loved ones.”

For information, visit or call 226-6264, or visit or call 886-1242.

View Univera Healthcare’s analysis of the CDC survey data here.


Twitter: @BNrefresh, @ScottBScanlon

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