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Help break the stigma surrounding mental illness

If you become physically ill, you would go to a doctor.

You would be diagnosed, treated, and life would go on as usual or with modifications. You likely would talk to your family, friends, and co-workers about it.

When people are diagnosed with a mental illness, however, life does not always go on as usual—and it is likely not discussed with others but hidden in hopes that people don’t find out.

Although everyone has the right to fully participate in his or her community, people struggling to overcome a mental illness can find themselves facing a constant series of rejections and exclusions.

Due to stigma, the typical reaction encountered by someone with a mental illness (and family members) is fear and rejection. Some have been denied adequate housing, loans, health insurance, and jobs due to their history of mental illness.

Some are restricted from entering restaurants or businesses.

Due to the stigma associated with the illness, many people have found they lose their self-esteem and have difficulty making friends.

The stigma attached to mental illness is so profound that people who suspect they might be mentally ill are unwilling to seek help for fear of what others may think. Spouses may be reluctant to define their partners as mentally ill while families may delay seeking help for their child because of their fears and shame.

We all have an idea about what someone with a mental illness is like, but most of our beliefs have been distorted through social beliefs. Television and movie characters that are aggressive, dangerous, and unpredictable often are portrayed as mentally ill. News coverage of mental illness often only relates to violence.

Casual terms like “lunatic” or “crazy,” as well as jokes about the mentally ill, are discriminatory and reinforce the inaccuracies about mental illness. We can only battle stigma when we have the facts.

We all have times when we feel depressed, get unreasonably angry, and over-excited. We even have periods when we think that everything and everybody is out to get us and that we can’t cope.

For someone with a mental illness, these feelings become enveloping and overwhelming.

Mental illness affects people of all ages, in all kinds of jobs, and at all education levels. Mental illness does not discriminate.

One-in-five people will experience a mental illness at some point in his or her lifetime. Close to 50 percent of those with severe or moderate mental illnesses will never seek treatment. Ninety percent of those with a mild mental illness will never seek treatment, and 90 percent of those who commit suicide have a treatable mental illness.

Stigma or discrimination attached to mental illnesses presents a serious barrier—not only to diagnosis and treatment but also to acceptance in the community.

Mental illnesses can be treated effectively. Learn about it, help to dispel the myths, and promote respect. Help break the stigma.

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