The Stigma of Mental Illness
The recent celebrity suicides of individuals who were thought to be happy and healthy have brought mental health back into the limelight. It’s sad that it takes suicide to get us to talk about mental health. Why are we embarrassed to talk about mental health?
In 1999, the US Surgeon General identified stigma as one of the biggest barriers to receiving mental healthcare and it’s still a barrier today. Most of us learn this stigma, this negative and judgmental attitude, towards those with mental health challenges as children. Unfortunately, many folks go through their lives believing that those with a mental illness are “crazy,” “weird,” dangerous or manipulative. This negative attitude has many people with mental illness avoiding treatment - why bother if everyone thinks they’re crazy anyway. This, of course, doesn’t help anything and can end tragically.
So, how do we, especially in rural Lincoln County, reduce this stigma? How do we encourage people to talk about their mental health as well as seek professional help?
Most authorities say that education is the answer. We must educate ourselves and others on the following facts:
· mental health issues affect the majority of humans at some time or another,
· talking straight-forwardly about mental health is healthy and appropriate,
· a person does not choose to have a mentally illness, just as someone doesn’t choose to have cancer
· people are not their diagnosis – their diagnosis is a part of who they are, not all of them.
All of us need to fight this long-standing prejudice against those with mental health issues if we truly want our community to be happy and healthy with fewer tragic endings. The National Association of Mental Illness (NAMI) is a great place to start or enhance your education on mental illness. (https://www.nami.org/#)