Patch Editorial. You can see the published article HERE.

As May draws to a close, so does Mental Health Month. Most of us were noticing the budding tulips, complaining about the rain or celebrating Mother’s Day and were probably unaware that Mental Health Month even existed. Considering that May is also National Egg Month, National Salsa Month and National Hamburger Month (Great, now I am hungry…) having an issued awareness time frame makes little impact these days. But nonetheless, it gives organizations the opportunity to spread the word and gain support. It gives sufferers a sense – if even for a moment – of not being ‘the only one’. And it gives writers like me a time to share a word or two.

There remains such a stigma surrounding the mere mention of mental illness. There are many whom would rather admit to taking their son’s ADD medication than to admit they are seeing a shrink. There are some who would feel more comfortable drinking a fifth of vodka each night instead of a Prozac each morning. There are those who have reached out only to have been called a ‘psycho’ in return. And there are others who would rather be diagnosed with an untreatable medical disease than a treatable mental illness. This is all because of the unrelenting stigma.

  • One in four adults – about 57 million Americans – suffer from a mental illness.
  • In 2006, 670 Wisconsin citizens died by way of suicide.
  • In 2008, Around 5100 adults with a mental illness were incarcerated in Wisconsin prisons.
  • Over 50% of students with a mental disorder drop out of high school.
  • Veterans are twice as likely to commit suicide than their non-veteran peers
  • It has been estimated that the mental illnesses cost annually to the country is approximately 79 billion

Mental illnesses and disorders are costing our population more than just dollars. They are costing us in the alleys, in the prisons, in the schools and in our own homes. There are no walls that can keep out manic depression. No amount of detention can wash away the residue of social anxiety. Bars cannot contain schizophrenia and street lights cannot shine enough to enlighten away addiction.

Nobody wakes up and decides to spend the day crying in bed. No one chooses to have panic attacks at the drop of a hat. These mental illnesses are not something a person can control or will away. They are not something for which to apologize. They should not require shame. If stigma is lessened, knowledge is gained and if knowledge is gained, lives will improve. And for most of those 57 million people there is: a mother, a father, a spouse, a child, a friend, a grandparent. All of the people who help fill the worlds of someone with a mental illness are just as affected and damaged by these maladies. That is a lot of people, people.

So, what will it take to form a society conducive to healing, to acceptance, to shamelessness?I believe it lies in those who are willing to step forward and share their stories. There is no doubt we would be astonished to learn what really lies within the closets, medicine cabinets and minds of others. Folks we see regularly, speak to and hold dear are or have suffered from a mental illness in some capacity. You may be amazed that the pretty waitress at your usual spot has severe bipolar disorder. You could very well be shocked to learn that the doctor whom you have been seeing for years is an alcoholic. And maybe your mother’s odd behaviors are due to her being trapped in a depressive state and not simply because she is getting old.

If these waitresses, doctors and mothers spoke out and shared with the world – even their own immediate worlds – just what they have been going through, the ripple effect could be momentous. If the words ‘mental illness’ would stop being spoken with such shame and embarrassment, healing and treatment could be right around the corner to many whom have considered it impossible.

If you are suffering with a mental illness, you are not only not alone – you are in a massive population of diverse individuals. Things CAN get better. You CAN feel better. And you CAN help end the stigma.

I have been living with depression and anxiety most of my life. There have been times of despair and times of, what I call, remission. And there are many moments in between. I don’t hide from my disorders. I do not feel shame; just as I wouldn’t had I been diagnosed with diabetes or MS. I have put myself out there and because of that I have been hurt. There is that risk, I won’t lie. But the hurt doesn’t last and it doesn’t compare to the knowledge of doing nothing. Call me psycho, you won’t be the first. Because as neurotic as I can be, I also know that I can climb out of the rubble like a champ. And when it is all said and done I can stand assured that I will not be defined by my psychological issues and I won’t be ashamed of them either.

Speak. Listen. Learn. Teach. That’s really all it takes to begin the healing towards a better quality of life.



4 thoughts on “Stopping the Stigma of Mental Illness

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