Help rid the stigma

You’re having lunch with a friend who reveals that she has started medication for high blood pressure. Do you feel uncomfortable? Probably not, right?

Now, imagine the same friend telling you that she has started medication for major depression. Maybe a little uncomfortable? That is what stigma does – and neither you nor your friend deserves to be strangled by its hold.

The January/February 2013 issue of Behavioral Healthcare has an article with Rosalynn Carter in which she shared how she became an advocate for individuals with mental illness, where the mental health field is heading today, and … the stigma and discrimination issue.

When Jimmy Carter ran for governor of Georgia in 1966, Rosalynn was approached by families asking what could be done to help their mentally ill loved one. Although Jimmy lost that first bid, it began Rosalynn’s path into advocacy and education. Consequently, when Jimmy became governor in 1972, he appointed a commission to improve services to mentally ill people.

Movements in the mental health field today are exciting and necessary. One involves community services. Another is community inclusion. Also, treatment moving toward recovery. Finally, integration of services. (Read that as getting rid of the separation between physical and mental health care.)

According to Mrs. Carter, stigma is lifting a little bit for those with depression and anxiety. However, if you’re talking about schizophrenia, you’ll be talking to yourself as those around you slowly back away. Persons with a mental illness should not be ashamed or embarrassed about living with mental illness. In many cases, mental illness can be treated more effectively than many other illnesses.

As we see more people recovering, they are speaking more openly about their experience with mental illness. It has been a subtle movement in advocating and educating; is it now time to speak a little louder to more people in a much more open approach? When one in four people will experience a mental illness at some time in his/her life, stigma and discrimination must be eliminated.

The Mental Health and Recovery Services Board of Seneca, Sandusky and Wyandot Counties is committed to sharing information and resources for better mental health and the prevention of substance abuse. If you would like more information, please call the Mental Health and Recovery Services Board of Seneca, Sandusky and Wyandot Counties at (419) 448-0640 between the hours of 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays. The board’s funded Hotline is available 24/7 at (800) 826-1306.

Nancy Cochran,

executive director