Are you, a relative, friend, co-worker or acquaintance dealing with a challenging mental health issue during Mental Health Month?
If so, it’s easy for the person affected to feel trapped with no escape. But there are concrete steps we can take to help ease any embarrassment, ostracism, humiliation and/or discrimination which is too often associated with mental illness. That’s why it’s critically important to shine a spotlight on a range of mental health conditions affecting people of all ages, from depression to dementia.
Fostering open communication, education, advocacy and outreach are solid strategies to eradicate myths, fears and stereotypes about mental illness.
As public discourse about mental health issues increases, the associated stigma decreases.
Consider the following statistics from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI):
- “Approximately 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. (46.6 million) experiences mental illness in a given year.”
- “Approximately 1 in 25 adults in the U.S. (11.2 million) experiences a serious mental illness in a given year that substantially interferes with or limits one or more major life activities.”
- “Approximately 1 in 5 youth aged 13–18 (21.4%) experiences a severe mental disorder at some point during their life. For children aged 8–15, the estimate is 13%.”
- “1.1% of adults in the U.S. live with schizophrenia.”
- “2.6% of adults in the U.S. live with bipolar disorder.”
- “6.9% of adults in the U.S. — 16 million — had at least one major depressive episode in the past year.”
- “18.1% of adults in the U.S. experienced an anxiety disorder such as post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and specific phobias.”
- “Among the 20.2 million adults in the U.S. who experienced a substance use disorder, 50.5% — 10.2 million adults — had a co-occurring mental illness.”
NAMI recently launched a social media campaign for Mental Health Month with the hashtag #WhyCare.
“The WhyCare? campaign is an opportunity to share the importance of mental health treatment, support and services to the millions of people, families, caregivers and loved ones affected by mental illness,” says NAMI, “and a challenge to address broken systems and attitudes that present barriers to treatment and recovery.”
Ending the Stigma
There’s still a huge public stigma associated with mental illness, even in today’s modern age. Will it ever end?
Perhaps more people will come to terms with the reality that mental illness is similar, in a general sense, to any other serious illness — such as diabetes or cancer, for example.
But other illnesses aren’t considered taboo topics in society at large.
Even though mental health support groups and advocacy organizations have grown over the years, the stigma lingers. We hear about mental illness in the news, but usually in connection to mass shootings, suicides and related personal and societal tragedies.
These negative stories only serve to reinforce the public myths, fears and stereotypes which already abound. It’s rare to see a positive story in the news media about people with mental illness.
Reporters should focus more on explanatory journalism and highlight success stories. The media and entertainment industries should shine a more positive spotlight on mental illness.
We unify for Mental Health Month and similar public interest campaigns to raise awareness and help those in need. However, most people then go back to their daily routines and don’t think much about this persistent problem unless they are personally affected.
It’s also important to recognize that young people are particularly vulnerable to developing mental health conditions during their teens and twenties.
“Half of all lifetime mental health conditions begin by age 14 and 75% by age 24. Early intervention programs can help.” — NAMI
Why care? Because children, teens and 20-somethings represent our future. Young people are the next generation of leadership. This alone should explain why you should consider getting more involved.
Ponder these four questions, especially as they relate to young people:
- How as a society can we address vexing issues of mental health in a more effective and empathetic way?
- How can we accept mental illness for what it really is (a common disease), rather than what it is not (something only “crazy” people get)?
- What’s the appropriate role for government, the media and private industry to help end the stigma?
- Is it even possible to end the centuries-old stigma or is this merely wishful thinking?
These perplexing questions have no quick fixes. If the answers were easy we would have found them by now.
Mental illness is a harrowing disease which has been poorly portrayed in the media and popular culture for too long.
While medical treatments have vastly improved over the decades, not all mental illnesses can be mitigated all the time. How do I know? Because my mom has a chronic mental illness.
Moreover, the personal and professional disgrace associated with mental health conditions remains troubling. People still use blatantly derogatory terms like “lunatic” and “nutty” to describe people with mental illness, both openly and behind closed doors.
It’s worrisome that in today’s modern high-tech Information Age the same old myths, fears and stereotypes about mental illness still plague society.
- Too many people still suffer in silence.
- Too many people still refuse treatment.
- Too many people go undiagnosed.
- Too much discrimination and harassment still exists.
It’s possible that breakthroughs in medical technology, biomedical research, neuroscience and nanotechnology will ultimately alleviate or cure most mental health conditions. But until that day arrives, hundreds of millions of people worldwide will continue to suffer in silence.
This situation is neither fair nor reasonable for the 46 million Americans with a mental health condition.
It’s also important to understand that many people with mental illness don’t come forward due to social stigmatization. This meaning the total number of people with mental health conditions is likely much higher than officially reported. The current figure may represent the proverbial “tip of the iceberg.”
We can all do more to help end the stigma during Mental Health Month, as well as every day and month.
The current situation is simply untenable. Do you agree?
*** Why do you care? ***
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Note: Longer versions of this article are featured on Medium and American Diversity Report (where the author is an advisory board member and featured contributor).
Note: Featured Photo by Mitch Lensink on Unsplash