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Challenging the Stigma of Mental Illness


According to the Mayo Clinic the proper definition of mental illness is as follows:
Mental illness refers to a wide range of mental health conditions — disorders that affect your mood, thinking and behavior. Examples of mental illness include depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, eating disorders and addictive behaviors.


Now let's explore mental illness and stigma as described by BJ Psych Advances
Stigma is defined as a sign of disgrace or discredit, which sets a person apart from others. The stigma of mental illness, although more often related to context than to a person's appearance, remains a powerful negative attribute in all social relations.

And some enlightened quotes to counter the negative views on mental illness:

"Your illness does not define you. Your strength and courage does."  

-Mental Health America (mission)

"At the root of this dilemma is the way we view mental health in this country. Whether an illness affects your heart, your leg or your brain, it's still an illness, and there should be no distinction"
-Michelle Obama

"To not have your suffering recognized is an almost unbearable form of violence."

-Andrei Lankov

An important fact to remember is that an estimated One in Five Americans suffer from some form of mental illness during their lifetime. Mental illness or more appropriately stated mental health issues are a powerful enemy if approached by the majority in our society as a shameful condition or something associated with traditional slangs such as: Looney, Crazy, Weird, Freak, Loser, Weakling, Psycho, and the list goes on.

Accepting these views as truth when they in fact stem from ignorance can cause immeasurable damage to a person struggling with a mental condition on their own, a situation that is often overwhelming and dangerous. Reaching beyond old and sterile views is the only answer. Embracing the fact that mental health conditions are fairly common and treatable like most other diseases is the only hope for defeating the harmful effects of this critical matter. If the masses are not educated on this issue, many of those in need will continue to mask their suffering and hesitate to seek help. This is a sad reality for many struggling with a chemical imbalance and their families. Speaking out about mental illness is a powerful tool to end the 'taboo'. We can all make a difference by educating one another.


Traditionally, mental Illness has been considered a defect due largely to inadequacy of some kind and therefore the fault of the person afflicted. In some cultures, mental illness is believed to be the mark of demonic possession. Yet in ancient Greece these challenges were assumed to be related to physical ailments. A simple and competent approach to a complex condition. It is important to remember that individuals experiencing thoughts of suicide experience mental duress due to a chemical imbalance and are not weak or cowardly. The rate of suicide in our country is staggering. It is the second cause of death among individuals ages 15 – 34 and the third cause of death among young people ages 10 – 14. NIMH.NIH.GOV  


NAMI of Broward County has introduced a new program for ending the silence called “In Your Own Voice”  in which a young adult living with mental illness speaks to middle and high school bodies along with a NAMI leader to promote awareness and recovery.


Those who seek help and have a documented history of treatment from a mental health professional often encounter cynicism from law enforcement professionals. At times people with genuine concerns and complaints of mistreatment are not taken seriously due to the stigma of mental illness. This makes mental health patients a vulnerable population often imperiled to abuse. Even those stabilized by medications may be subject to unreasonable scrutiny. 


Many crime dramas depict their most vile criminals as mentally ill. While this story line is great for ratings, it also promotes a belief among the populous that violence and malevolent behavior is related directly to mental illness. The truth is that these majority of people are not violent nor prone to violence. SEE STATISTICS AT: MENTAL HEALTH.GOV


Fortunately with help from the International Crisis Intervention Team a training model for law enforcement professionals has been implemented across the U.S. to provide those in crisis access to proper medical services and avoid incarceration. With the help of legislators and the public we can abolish legal prosecution of those in need of assistance.   

It is very difficult for anyone to contend with a mental health problem while at the same time create the appearance of normalcy. In a day of so much advanced knowledge a person should not feel a need to hide a problem as serious as mental illness. Mental Health America has developed an initiative called B4 Stage4. This is the concept of preventing the escalation of mental health conditions and the need for crisis care and to treat these issues in the same manner that we treat cancer or other serious illnesses. The amount of time it takes for treatment from the onset of symptoms is ten years. That is ten years of distress and contention during the lifetime of someone afflicted with a chemical imbalance. 


If we seek to abate mental illness stigma in our society, we will have greater hope for healthy and happy lifestyles, unencumbered by fear and feelings of helplessness.  


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