Tear Down the Stigma of Mental Illness
  By Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D

 Honoring mental health month, the class of "Living 201," watched a video this week, which is sponsored by former First Lady Rosalyn Carter.  
The video was about coping with the stigma of mental illness.  Watching it, I recalled the historic moment when President Reagan in his national address, referring to the division of East and West Berlin, challenged the Russian President, "Mr. President, tear down that wall."  Mental stigma is rock solid like the Berlin wall used to be.  But, it too will come down.  It will come down just as the Berlin Wall did, bit by bit, chipped away by ordinary folks like you and I.  

One person out of four will suffer from a mental-emotional disorder this year, but only 20% of them will seek help.  The wall of stigma is blocking the way to the road of recovery.  Mental illness is like any other illness.  An illness is just that, an illness.  It certainly is not "craziness."  
I hesitate to put a mental health desk in a health fair.  Why?  Because, passers by try to overcome their uneasiness about the subject by laughing it off.  For example, they would look at each other and say, "She (or he) really needs to see you," or "Doc, she is bad (or crazy) Fix her."  And then they would giggle.  This is as much contact as they dare to make in a public place.  If you think the jokes about lawyers are bad, pay attention to the jokes about mental illness.  

Mental illness is portrayed either as comical or dangerous.  Such examples as Theodore Kaczinski and Jeffry Dalmer, sensationalized in the media, create a false scare.  The fact is that there are more dangerous and violent people within the "normal" population.  Most people with an emotional illness are not dangerous or violent .  

Everyone who has heart can have heart disease.  Everyone who has a brain can have a mental disorder.  Feeling suicidal is not insanity or 
weakness, it's a cry for a solution to a problem that person is having.  

Stigma is a prejudice, just as racial prejudice is.  Prejudice is nothing but fear.  Fear is based on ignorance.  Out of ignorance, some understandably feel that the mentally ill are different from them-a totally different breed.  Shed your prejudice and your fear.  Remove the stigma.  

So, if you or your loved one ever have a psychological-emotional problem, you won't shy away from seeking help.   

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