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Observing World Mental Health Day

Time to End the Stigma!

In case you missed it, October 10th was World Mental Health Day. The annual observance is sponsored by the World Health Organization to raise awareness of critically important mental health issues.

I was inspired to see the tremendous outpouring of sentiments expressed on social media, ranging from those with mental health conditions, to their family and friends, to the public at large.

Now it’s time for more people around the world to step up and sustain the momentum by uniting in a daily global effort to #EndTheStigma.

One place to start is by telling our stories.

That’s because comprehensive public information, outreach, education and communication — both online and off — are solid strategies to eradicate myths, fears and stereotypes surrounding people with mental illness.

Consider the following statistics from the National Alliance on Mental Illness:

· “Approximately 1 in 5 adults in the U.S.—43.8 million, or 18.5%—experiences mental illness in a given year.”

· “Approximately 1 in 25 adults in the U.S.—9.8 million, or 4.0%—experiences a serious mental illness in a given year that substantially interferes with or limits one or more major life activities.”

· “Approximately 1 in 5 youth aged 13–18 (21.4%) experiences a severe mental disorder at some point during their life. For children aged 8–15, the estimate is 13%.”

· “1.1% of adults in the U.S. live with schizophrenia” and “2.6% of adults in the U.S. live with bipolar disorder.”

· “6.9% of adults in the U.S.—16 million—had at least one major depressive episode in the past year.”

· “18.1% of adults in the U.S. experienced an anxiety disorder such as posttraumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and specific phobias.”

· “Among the 20.2 million adults in the U.S. who experienced a substance use disorder, 50.5%—10.2 million adults—had a co-occurring mental illness.”

We can all do our part to help end the stigma by bringing issues of mental health to public attention.

Ending the Stigma

There’s still a huge public stigma associated with mental illness, even in today’s modern age. Will it ever end?

Perhaps more people will come to terms with the reality that mental illness is similar in a general sense to any other serious illness, such as diabetes, cancer and other medical conditions.

But other illnesses aren’t considered taboo topics in society at large.

Even though mental health support groups and advocacy organizations have grown over the years, the stigma lingers to the detriment of society.

We hear about mental illness in the news, but usually in connection to mass shootings, suicides and related tragedies.

These negative stories serve to reinforce the public myths, fears and stereotypes which are already so prevalent. It’s rare to see a positive story in the news media about people with mental illness. Journalists need to do a better job with explanatory reporting and highlighting success stories.

We unify to observe World Mental Health Day, week or month to raise public awareness. However, most folks then go back to their daily routines and don’t think much about it — unless they are personally affected or know someone who is, like a friend or family member.

How as a society do we come to grips with the vexing issue of mental illness? How can we accept mental illness for what it is and what it is not? Are the answers too elusive?

Final Thoughts

Mental illness is a harrowing disease which has been badly portrayed by the news media, popular culture and entertainment for decades.

It’s no longer the case that men with white uniforms show up, put the patient in a straight jacket and take them away.

I’m always reminded of the famous 1975 award-winning film starring Jack Nicholson, “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”

While medical treatments have vastly improved over the decades, the disgrace, humiliation and embarrassment associated with mental illness remains a persistent problem. People still use terms openly and behind closed doors like “lunatic” and “crazy” — to put it mildly.

The
the same old myths, fears and stereotypes about mental illness still
plague society, from the workplace to every other place.

  • Too many people still suffer in silence.
  • Too many people don’t get treatment.
  • Too many people are not diagnosed.
  • Too much discrimination still exists.

Mental illness is still a taboo topic in the 21st century Information Age.

  • How do we all come together as a society to end the stigma?
  • Is it even possible or just a pipe dream?
  • Has
    mental illness become an ingrained societal fixture for which those
    affected cannot escape being labeled, pitied and stigmatized?

Obviously, these are perplexing questions with no easy answers — otherwise we would have found the answers by now.

Perhaps advances in medical technology and biomedical breakthroughs will ultimately alleviate or cure most mental illnesses.

But until that day arrives, hundreds of millions of people worldwide will continue to suffer in silence. This is neither fair nor reasonable.

We all must do more to end the stigma. Everyone can help in a small way by fostering more open communication, education, advocacy and outreach.

The current situation is simply untenable

What will YOU do to help?

DBG

NOTE: This article also appears on Thrive Global via Medium (where you can interact via applauding/liking and commenting).

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NOTE: David previously worked as a federal government spokesman and senior communications advisor for the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which enforces Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Some mental health conditions, like depression and anxiety disorder, fall under the ADA as disability impairments (in addition to physical impairments).

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