Stigma: Building Awareness And Understanding About Mental Illness
Mental illness can strike anyone! It
age limits, economic status, race, creed or color. During the course of
year, more than 48 million Americans are affected by one or more mental
Medical science has made incredible progress over the last century
understanding, curing and eliminating the causes of many diseases
mental illnesses. However, while doctors continue to solve some of the
of the brain, many of its functions remain a puzzle. Even at the
research centers, no one fully understands how the brain works or why
malfunctions. However, researchers have determined that many mental
are probably the result of chemical imbalances in the brain. These
may be inherited, or may develop because of excessive stress or
It is sometimes easy to forget that our brain, like all of our other organs, is vulnerable to disease. Unfortunately, because people with mental illnesses often suffer from symptoms which are behavioral, they are sometimes thought of differently than people with physical ailments. Instead of receiving compassion and support, people with mental illnesses may be greeted by unsympathetic, unfair or hostile responses.
Most of the intolerance can be attributed to the stigma that accompanies mental illness. As a society, we often perceive people who have a mental illness as strange, scary, even dangerous. These misconceptions frequently result in blatant discrimination. In fact, when people with mental illnesses are asked to identify the biggest problem they face, most say it is simply lack of acceptance.
People who suffer or have suffered from mental illness have many
to overcome. Don’t let your attitude or actions be yet another hurdle!
Did You Know?
•Abraham Lincoln fought depression for many years. After overcoming his illness, he went on to become President of the United States! •Others who have conquered their mental illness are Dick Clark; Ted Turner; Alma Powell, wife of Colin Powell; Mike Wallace, of 60 Minutes; Joan Rivers, comedienne, Art Buchwald, humorist-columnist; Dick Cavett, TV talk show host; Kitty Dukakis, wife of Michael Dukakis, and Patty Duke, actress.
The best way to dispel misconceptions and eliminate discrimination
mental illness is to get a clear understanding of how it affects
What Is A Metnal Illness?
A mental illness is a disease that causes mild to severe disturbances in thinking, perception and behavior which may significantly impair the person’s ability to cope with life’s ordinary demands and routines. Many mental illnesses are believed to have biological causes, just like cancer, diabetes and heart disease. Depending on the type and severity of the mental illness, with the proper care and treatment, a person can learn to cope, improve, or experience a full recovery.
The Five Major Categories Of Mental Illness:
1. Anxiety Disorders
Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illnesses. The three main types are: phobias, panic disorders, and obsessive-compulsive disorders. People who suffer from phobias experience extreme fear or dread from a particular object or situation. Panic disorders involve sudden, intense feelings of terror for no apparent reason and symptoms similar to a heart attack. People with obsessive-compulsive disorder try to cope with anxiety by repeating words or phrases or engaging in repetitive, ritualistic behavior such as constant hand washing.
2. Mood Disorders
Mood disorders include depression and bipolar disorder which involves extreme mood swings such as extreme sadness or elation, sleep and eating disturbances, and changes in activity and energy levels. Suicide may be a risk with these disorders.
Schizophrenia is the most disabling and serious of the mental illnesses. Schizophrenia is believed to be caused by chemical imbalances in the brain that cause a variety of symptoms including hallucinations, delusions, withdrawal, incoherent speech and impaired reasoning.
This group of brain disorders includes diseases like Alzheimer’s which leads to loss of mental functions, including memory loss and a decline of intellectual and physical skills.
5. Eating Disorders
Anorexia nervosa and bulimia are serious, life-threatening
is self-starvation while bulimia is cycles of bingeing (consuming large
quantities of food) and purging ( self-inducing vomiting or abusing
Behavior may also include excessive exercise. People with anorexia and
have a preoccupation with food and an irrational fear of being fat.
Common Misconceptions About Mental Illness:
Myth: "Mental illnesses are not real diseases like heart disease and
Fact: While many psychiatric disorders can not be detected through
blood tests or biopsies, these diseases have been linked in studies to
biological origin. Some psychotic disorders may be situational and
caused by extreme stress or life changes such as a death of a loved one
Myth: "People who need psychiatric care should be locked away in
Fact: The notion that all people with mental illnesses should be
institutionalized is a thing of the past. Today, there are a variety of
providers, programs and medications that allow most patients to lead
lives within their communities.
Myth: "A person who has had a mental illness can never be normal."
Fact: Mental illness is often a temporary condition. A previously
individual may have an episode of illness lasting weeks or months, and
may go for years, even a lifetime, without further difficulty. To label
a recovered patient "abnormal" is both unfair and unrealistic.
Myth: "Mentally ill persons are dangerous."
Fact: The vast majority of people with mental illnesses are not
In the cases when violence does occur, the incidence typically results
the same reasons as with the general public such as feeling threatened
excessive use of alcohol and/or drugs.
Myth: "Recovered mental patients can work low-level jobs but aren’t
suited for really important or responsible positions."
Fact: Like everyone else, people with mental illnesses are
potential depends on a person’s particular talents, abilities,
experience and motivation as well as his/her current state of physical
Why Stigma Still Exists:
Unfortunately, the media are responsible for many of the attitudes and misconceptions we hold regarding people with mental illnesses. As a society we are bombarded with images of people with mental illnesses as being homicidal madmen, women with 16 personalities, or homeless people talking to themselves.
Newspapers, in particular, often stress a history of mental illness
backgrounds of people who commit crimes of violence. Television news
frequently sensationalize crimes where persons with mental illness are
Comedians make fun of people with mental illnesses, using their
as a source of humor. Furthermore, national advertisers present
images as promotional gimmicks to sell products.
Ironically, the media also offer the best hope for eradicating
of their power to educate and influence public opinion. Objectively,
media have a responsibility to provide a broader perspective on people
How You Can Help:
•Be positive and helpful. Respond to people who have a mental illness as individuals. Learn about the person and deal with them on the basis of your knowledge, not your assumptions. •Do what you can to help people with a mental illness reenter society. Support their efforts to obtain housing and jobs.
•Don’t let false statements about mental illness or people with
mental illnesses go unchallenged. Many people have wrong and damaging
on the subject, but honestly believe that their views are accurate.
information may help them change both their ideas and actions. •Spread
the word. Tell others what you have learned. Help give people
from a mental illness what they need most, a chance.
Published By The National Mental Health
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