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Avoid stigma of mental illness

The Daily Times - 3/4/2018

“Don’t be ashamed of your story. It will inspire others.” - Unknown

With the events of the last few weeks yet again the stigma of having mental health issues is front and center in the press. Although mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder, are common and treatable, they continue to be overshadowed by silence, shame and hushed tones - often leading to inaction.

Despite the fact that most people with mental illness are never violent, news stories about violence often focus on whether a person’s mental health problem was responsible. Most people with mental illness are not violent. In fact, people with mental illness are more likely to be the victims of violence. The best way to reduce this risk is through treatment. Yet fewer than one-third of adults and half of children with a diagnosed mental illness receive mental health services in a given year. Today is a time for reflection on our responsibility to conquer the stigma surrounding mental-health conditions.

Unfortunately, negative attitudes and beliefs toward people who have a mental health condition are common. Stigma can lead to discrimination. Discrimination may be obvious and direct, such as someone making a negative remark about your mental illness or your treatment. Or it may be unintentional or subtle, such as someone avoiding you because the person assumes you could be unstable, violent or dangerous due to your mental illness. You may even judge yourself.

Some of the harmful effects of stigma may include a reluctance to seek help or treatment or a lack of understanding by others. The lack of understanding by others may limit opportunities for work or school and cause trouble finding housing. And unfortunately, many health insurances do not adequately cover mental illness treatment.

In the recent past, there have been football, basketball and baseball players, actors and actresses who have become verbal about their bouts with mental illnesses as a way to open a discussion about these disorders. DeMar DeRozan of the Toronto Raptors has gone public in the press and through Twitter to discuss his bouts with depression and anxiety, and the NBA National Basketball Players Association has negotiated a pact for the league to devote resources to a mental wellness program.

Former YouTuber Jack Harries once said “Mental illnesses are a thing. They’re real, and they’re very present. And we need to talk about them.” It is important to at least change the conversation so that more people understand that those with treated mental illnesses do not often commit crimes of violence, but sometimes people with untreated severe mental illnesses do. Perhaps we can change hearts, minds, legislation and mental health care access for some of our most vulnerable citizens with severe mental illnesses.

“Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, but stigma and bias shame us all” -Bill Clinton


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