Stop The Stigma: Why Mental Health Professionals Want To Destigmatize Mental Illness
Posted by GreaterGoodness
Throughout human history, people who exhibit the kinds of aberrant behavior associated with mental illness have been stigmatized, isolated and abused. From the exorcisms and skull drills of ancient times to the horrors of 19th century insane asylums, where patients were forced to endure lobotomies and repeated electric shocks, the treatment of the mentally ill has been fear-driven and inhumane. While modern medicine has come a long way in understanding mental illness, far too many people still view the mentally ill as flawed, weak or simply too lazy to cope with the normal ups and downs of everyday life. But as psychiatrist Marie Gronley, M.D. of Scottsdale Mental Health points out, nothing could be further from the truth.
Causes of Mental Illness
Far from being a character flaw, mental illness is a complex, multidimensional and largely physiological disease. Although no one truly understands how the many factors that influence mental health intersect, scientists know that factors such as heredity and biology — specifically the biology of the brain and nervous system — impact mood and behavior in profound ways, reports MedicineNet. For example, some people with mental disorders have been shown to have abnormal levels of important chemical “messengers,” known as neurotransmitters, in their brains. Similarly, people with traumatic brain injuries often develop social and behavioral issues ranging from depression and feelings of helplessness to aggression and hostility, says Traumatic Brain Injury.com. Emotional trauma can also cause mental health issues in some victims of violence, child abuse or sexual assault.
Incidence of Mental Illness
Mental disorders are not at all rare. About 1 in 5, or nearly 44 million, adults in the United States develop a mental health issue every year, and about 21 percent of children aged 13 to 18 experience a serious mental health issue at some point in their lives, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Nonetheless, due in large part to the fear of being stigmatized, only about 40 percent of people who live with mental illness receive appropriate medical treatment each year.
Consequences of Untreated Mental Illness
Although almost all mental disorders are treatable, untreated mental illness continues to have profound social, economic and public-health consequences in the United States. Mental health disorders are the third leading cause of hospitalization in adults 18 to 44, and the National Alliance on Mental Illness estimates that mental disorders cost the American economy approximately $193.2 billion in lost earnings each year. Individuals who live with mental illness die from treatable medical conditions at an astonishing rate, on average about 25 years younger than their mentally healthy counterparts. Suicide, the last resort of the desperately mentally ill, is the tenth leading cause of death in the United States and the second-leading cause of death in children and young adults aged 15 to 24.
Changing the Conversation About Mental Illness
When comedian Robin Williams took his life in November 2014 after suffering from years of depression and substance abuse, many people received a much-needed wake-up call. Conditioned to viewing the mentally ill as dangerous and somehow defective, they, and Williams’ fans all over the world, suddenly developed a new understanding of the type of person who struggles with being mentally ill. Since then, many other Hollywood personalities, including actresses Rene Russo, Lorraine Bracco and Glenn Close, have come forward to discuss their personal experiences with mental illness and encourage others to seek help. Their efforts and those of organizations like the National Alliance on Mental Illness, whose motto is “Stigma Free,” are helping to change the conversation and the perception of mental illness here in the United States and across the globe.
Mental illness is not a character flaw but a serious medical condition that claims thousands of lives each year and impacts society in countless ways. What’s more, mental illness is extremely treatable: with appropriate therapy, most people who experience a mental disorder lead fulfilling, productive lives.