Mental illnesses can present themselves in myriad ways and at differing ages. Some people may exhibit behaviors typically associated with autism as a small child, while others may not show signs of being affected by the disorder until adolescence. Some people may enjoy sober lives for decades, but once they have their first taste of alcohol, they discover they have an addiction for it and a subsequent dependence on it.
Some disorders, like dyslexia and epilepsy, are more highly correlated to genetics, while others, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and postpartum depression, are generally considered to be effects of environmental factors.
Regardless of the type of affliction or the age of onset, most mental illnesses have at least one thing in common: they carry a stigma.
The website, www.dictionary.com, defines stigma as “a mark of disgrace or infamy; a stain or reproach, as on one’s reputation”.
According to studies conducted in 2014 by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration, 18 percent of adults in the U.S. suffer from a mental illness. The lengthy list includes anxiety, insomnia, Tourette syndrome, claustrophobia and a wealth of other issues that can be immensely debilitating.
More than 9 million American adults are affected by some mental illness to the point where their work lives and social lives are greatly inhibited.
On the positive side, treatments have shown to be successful for 60, 70 and 80 percent of people who suffer from schizophrenia, depression and Bipolar Disorder respectively.
However, less than a third of people with mental illnesses receive treatment.
If treatment can be so effective, why do the majority of people with mental illnesses not seek it? In a word: stigma.
Many people with mental illnesses believe they will be called “crazy”, and they fear repercussions like job loss and the cessation of relationships that are often accompanied by such a diagnosis and subsequent label.
The notion that mental illnesses carry a stigma is real. According to the aforementioned study, citizens not diagnosed with a mental illness commonly see those with issues in a negative light. More than 40 percent say a person with a history of mental illness should be excluded from public office, and that same percentage thinks major depression is “the result of a lack of will power”. More than 60 percent believe the way to treat major depression is to simply “pull yourself together”.
With survey results like these, it is no surprise that few people seek help. The mere act of seeking help acknowledges that a problem might exist, and that acknowledgement alone can be as disruptive to someone’s life as the mental illness itself.
The best way to help combat the stigma associated with mental illnesses is to understand that mental illnesses come in a variety of forms, and they affect people of all ages, ethnicities, economic levels, social status levels, backgrounds and upbringings.
It is also essential to realize that, in the majority of cases, treatment is effective and should be sought.
For further information, please go to NAMI, DBSA, NIMH, SAMHIN, and SAMHAJ.