Breaking the Stigma of Mental Illness

October 6th -12th, 2013 is Mental Health Awareness Week in the United States. A large imagespercentage of people in our world continue to view mental illness as a choice or a dirty little secret. When someone with a mental illness commits a crime, suddenly everyone with a mental illness is dangerous. The truth is, however, “The absolute risk of violence among the mentally ill as a group is very small. . . only a small proportion of the violence in our society can be attributed to persons who are mentally ill (Mulvey, 1994).” In addition, “People with severe mental illnesses, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or psychosis, are 2 ½ times more likely to be attacked, raped or mugged than the general population (Hiday, et al.,1999).”

In honor and support of all those who suffer with a mental illness in silence, I’m reposting a blog I wrote several years ago called Breaking the Stigma of Mental Illness. To quote William J. Clinton, 42nd President of the United States, “Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, but stigma and bias shame us all.” {Click To Tweet} Amen to that!

 *****

A

A

Say someone you love is diagnosed with cancer…

  1. Are you embarrassed, perhaps even ashamed?
  2. Do you hide the diagnosis from friends?
  3. When your loved one suffers through treatments that cause unpleasant, even visually unappealing side effects, do you hide their suffering out of embarrassment, depriving them of comfort and support?

In fact, if someone you love was diagnosed with any of the following, Type 1 diabetes, a brain tumor or muscular dystrophy, would you do anything less than, as they say, rally the troops to provide as much emotional support, prayer support, and information/educational support as you possibly can so they have the best chance of getting better?

Of course you would!

Now, what if someone you love is diagnosed with a mental illness?

B

I won’t repeat questions 1 through 3 above (you can ask these yourself). As you do, keep in mind that according to NAMI (The National Alliance on Mental Illness) schizophrenia affects 1 out of 100 people (1.1% of the population, or about 2.4 million Americans). Most victims are struck down in the prime of their early adult years. Also, schizophrenia is far more common than many other disorders, such as multiple sclerosis or muscular dystrophy, which we hear much more about.

In addition:

  • Bipolar disorder affects 5.7 million American Adults (approx. 2.6% of the population)
  • Major depressive disorder affects 6.7% of adults or approximately 14.8 million American adults (1 man in 10, and 1 woman in 5 will have a serious depression in their lives, usually before they are 40 years old.) *

Rather than go on about the obvious: the deplorable way we treat people who, through no fault of their own, are diagnosed with a mental illness, let me ask you this: If someone you love was diagnosed with a mental illness, wouldn’t it be great if…

  • You could speak openly about it, so when the one you love is having an episode, people would sympathize and understand.
  • You could speak openly about it, knowing that friends and family would offer support to your loved one, such as encouraging them to seek or continue treatment or a high-fiving them when they are doing well.
  • You could speak openly about it, knowing that while your loved one may have a disease, the disease does not define them.
  • You could speak openly about it, rallying 10, 20, 100 or even thousands of people to pray for your loved one.
C

So that’s what I’ve been pondering lately. My intention was not to write a dissertation on the subject of why, worldwide, we tend to treat people with mental illness worse than people with physical illness (there are some cultures that refuse to even acknowledge mental illness), but rather, to give you something to think about.

Wouldn’t it be great if people with mental illness no longer felt ashamed?

Learn more about mental illness and help break the stigma at: www.nami.org.

(A: Pres. Abraham Lincoln suffered from depression, B: John Nash suffered from schizophrenia, C: Carrie Fisher suffers from bipolar disorder)

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