ONE IN FOUR OF US STRUGGLES WITH MENTAL ILLNESS NEEDLESSLY
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, at any given time one in four Americans is grappling with a mental health issue. No matter whether it is depression, anxiety, panic attacks, or any of a legion of brain disorders, the results can immobilize someone, preventing them from enjoying the things they once enjoyed, and tempting them with self-destructive behaviors.
It’s like a shortstop whose finger is broken by a sliding base runner. The injury can be traumatic, career-ending.
The ballplayer will go immediately to the doctor, be treated, follow a rehab regimen, and be back on the field. But fewer than half with mental health issues seek treatment, even though in most cases treatment can return the sufferer to a happy and productive life.
Why do we differentiate between physical health and mental health in such a way that treatment for the former is routinely accepted, but for the latter is discouraged or even forbidden? Because stigma, based on lack of knowledge, misguided tradition, and outright discrimination, often casts shame on those who seek psychiatric or psychological help.
Let’s begin with a real-life example that by itself should shed enough light on the injustice of mental health stigma. In 2011, a patient came to a Philadelphia hospital, agitated and depressed. She was admitted and immediately wandering hospital corridors, rambling incoherently, responding to internal voices. The initial diagnosis was agitated depression.
A member of the medical staff was alerted to a possible underlying medical condition by lab results. A final diagnosis of chronic meningitis, a disorder caused by bacteria or parasitic infection, resulted in a dramatic change in the treatment. Within the next few days her mental condition improved rapidly, and shortly she was fully oriented and free from symptoms.
The woman had “caught” what appeared to be a mental illness, just as one might catch the mumps or the flu. Fortunately, she found herself in a top flight medical institution where the cause, and cure, were eventually found. Suppose she had ignored her symptoms because like many who share her problem she was afraid her family would think she was “crazy,” “whacko?” Suppose she had allowed the stigma to prevent her from walking into that ER? The result might have been suicide. It happens often, as headlines too frequently report.
The words that we use every day serve can strengthen negative connotations and further alienate sufferers from society and treatment. Mental illness is not a character flaw, not a personal weakness, but rather a disease not unlike other chronic diseases like diabetes or heart disease, diagnosable and treatable. Untreated mental illness exacts huge costs on our economy and our society
MENTAL HEALTH: KNOW THE FACTS, NO STIGMA is a year-long campaign sponsored by a dedicated group of partners on Maryland’s lower Eastern Shore:
The Worcester County Health Department
The Wicomico County Health Department
Worcester Youth and Family Counseling Services
The Jesse Klump Memorial Fund, Inc.
Atlantic General Hospital
Worcester County Department of Social Services
The Life Crisis Center
The Maryland Association of CORE Services Agencies
The Worcester County Drug and Alcohol Council
MENTAL HEALTH: KNOW THE FACTS, NO STIGMA culminates with a March 19, 2015 conference in Ocean City, Maryland.. For more information about the campaign and conference, and t register for conference attendance, visit www.know-the-facts-no-stigma.org.
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