I am an MBA Psychologist working as a professor of psychology at a small Midwestern university and I also have a small private practice; serving a very rural area where suicide is higher than the national average. I also come from a family riddled with mental illness and suicides as well as struggle with my own mental illness. I am 21 years into recovery from addiction and major depression.
I have a message and I am screaming it from the mountaintops. Mental Illness is not something to be ashamed of and it is not something we need to hide from our loved ones and friends. In fact, that stigma that keeps us hidden and feeling alone, exacerbates our symptoms, keeps us from getting help, and also hinders our full engagement in treatment. It also keeps us from contributing at work, at home, and in our communities the way we could to improve the world around us. Stigma makes us feel shame and it is unnecessarily harming us and our loved ones. It is time to stop this useless and ignorant social attitude that is costing us the lives of people we love. Mental health stigma is the real madness in our world.
The World Health Organization (WHO) calls Mental Illness the number one disability in the world today. It is at epidemic proportions. More guns are used to commit suicide in the United States than are used to commit murder. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) says 1 in 4 people will struggle with mental illness this year and 1 in 19 will struggles with serious mental illness. Sadly, those same organizations tell me that the majority of those struggling will not reach out for help. Suicide rates have escalated to over 350,000 every year, leaving millions of survivors frightened, alone, and at risk for suicide (CDC, NIMH). Stigma related to mental health is harming our loved ones, our neighbors, our businesses, and our communities. Mental Health Stigma is the real madness in our world.
This is the madness that is MENTAL HEALTH STIGMA:
We shun people who are emotional difficult to be around. We avoid them.
We look away from people who are struggling emotionally.
When a friend, who recently attempted suicide, enters the room; we are uncomfortable and stop talking.
We lie about a spouse’s mental illness because we don’t want friends to know we married someone who turned out to be a loser. This would not happen if your spouse had cancer.
We don’t send get well cards of friendly emails to friends who struggle with mental illness.
We talk comfortably, sadly, and concerned about cancer and the flu, but hide our mental illness out of shame.
We lie about taking medication for mental illness. Because we don’t want friends to know we are weak.
We tell people, who cry in public, that they cannot be managers or hold down professional positions.
We avoid eye contact with people who are emotionally distraught. WE don’t ask what is wrong or try to help like we would someone who was having chest pains.
We learn CPR and know to call 911, but have no idea what to do when someone threatens suicide.
We tell people with mental illness to “pull your self together or to get over it” in spite of overwhelming research that says treatment is needed.
We don’t have fundraisers for families with mentally ill children; even those we lose more of our young people to suicide than to cancer.
We don’t seek treatment for mental illness unless we are suicidal and even then we feel ashamed and like we are putting out our families.
We believe that support groups are for “those people who cant cope”
WE believe mental illness is mostly a problem of the poor. It is not.
We blame parents for the mental illness of their children.
We gossip about a friend in whispers after we hear they have a diagnosis.
We allow insurance companies to limit treatment for mental illness.
We don’t get mental health checkups like we get physicals.
We don’t comply with mental health treatment because counselors are all “crazy”.
We give mental health advice to friends and tell them which medications to take, or not to take even though we would never do this if they had asthma or diabetes.
We gossip about someone saying they are “crazy or nuts or psycho” instead of saying we don’t like them.
We tell each other that suicide attempters are “just looking for attention” when attempts actually put people at higher risk for completion.
We believe that our friends ‘choose’ to be mentally ill.
We don’t send flowers to our friends who are hospitalized for mental illness.
We allow mental health professionals to diagnose mental disorders in 7 minutes without appropriate assessment.
When someone is mentally ill, we say they use it as an excuse to get out of work.
We see people who take off work for mental health treatment as lazy and we are afraid if we allow them to do this everyone will take advantage of it (like we don’t do this with physical illness).
We don’t support each other in seeking accommodations for mental illness.
WE don’t want to listen to someone talk about mental health symptoms, especially if we are baby boomers because we only want to hear about the physical ailments of old people. We don’t want to know that our elderly are depressed and committing suicide at high rates.
We tell others that the mentally ill are just looking for a free ride when they want to be on disability, but would never say this to a person who had lost a leg.
We have to say we are suicidal to get treatment in the hospital for mental illness because insurance companies want to be sure it is life threatening before they pay. How would that go over with a broken leg or an asthma attack?
We believe all mentally ill are serial killers like they are portrayed on TV.
We discourage people from attending support groups because they are cults.
We put people in hospital rooms, for treatment of mental illness that look like prison rooms.
We believe the mentally ill are always incapable of sound judgment.
We believe the mentally ill are manipulative and take advantage of others on purpose.
We allow mental health professionals to over or under medicate our loved ones without comment.
We don’t attend funerals when the death is a suicide.
We don’t send cards or flowers to people struggling with depression.
We don’t take casseroles to our friends who have children who dies of a drug overdose or suicide.
We don’t support family members with mental illness because we are ashamed of them. We would rather they had cancer or something more life threatening so we could be proud of them.
Don’t tell me that Stigma is not all around us every day – add to my list and talk about mental illness. It is time for our world to change its attitude. I am tired of losing people I love.
STOP THE REAL MADNESS
Licensed Psychologist Mental Health Care Provider
Professor of Psychology Northwest Missouri State University
Scientist Practitioner with many publications
Consultant and ProBono Activist Advocate for mental illness
Will always work long days for a plane ticket and free room and board
21 years of recovery from addictions and depression
Family member and caretaker to others with mental illness