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A mental illness is a medical condition that disrupts a person's thinking, feeling, mood, ability to relate to others and daily functioning. Just as diabetes is a disorder of the pancreas, mental illnesses are medical conditions that often result in a diminished capacity for coping with the ordinary demands of life.
Serious mental illnesses include major depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), panic disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and borderline personality disorder. The good news about mental illness is that recovery is possible.
Mental illnesses can affect persons of any age, race, religion or income. Mental illnesses are not the result of personal weakness, lack of character or poor upbringing. Mental illnesses are treatable. Most people diagnosed with a serious mental illness can experience relief from their symptoms by actively participating in an individual treatment plan.
Mental Health Stigma
Mental illness can strike anyone! It knows no age limits, economic status, race, creed or color. During the course of a year, more than 54 million Americans are affected by one or more mental disorders.
Medical science has made incredible progress over the last century in helping us understand, curing and eliminating the causes of many diseases including mental illnesses. However, while doctors continue to solve some of the mysteries of the brain, many of its functions remain a puzzle. Even at the leading research centers, no one fully understands how the brain works or why it malfunctions. However, researchers have determined that many mental illnesses are probably the result of chemical imbalances in the brain. These imbalances may be inherited, or may develop because of excessive stress or substance abuse.
It is sometimes easy to forget that our brain, like all of our other organs, is vulnerable to disease. People with mental illnesses often exhibit many types of behaviors such as extreme sadness and irritability, and in more severe cases, they may also suffer from hallucinations and total withdrawal. Instead of receiving compassion and acceptance, people with mental illnesses may experience hostility, discrimination, and stigma.
Why does stigma still exist?
Unfortunately, the media is responsible for many of the misconceptions which persist about people with mental illnesses. Newspapers, in particular, often stress a history of mental illness in the backgrounds of people who commit crimes of violence.
Newspapers, in particular, often stress a history of mental illness in the backgrounds of people who commit crimes of violence. Television news programs frequently sensationalize crimes where persons with mental illnesses are involved.
Comedians make fun of people with mental illnesses, using their disabilities as a source of humor. Also, national advertisers use stigmatizing images as promotional gimmicks to sell products.
Ironically, the media also offers our best hope for eradicating stigma because of its power to educate and influence public opinion.
Common Misconceptions About Mental Illness
Myth: “People who need psychiatric care should be locked away in institutions.”
Fact: Today, most people can lead productive lives within their communities thanks to a variety of supports, programs, and/or medications.
Myth: “A person who has had a mental illness can never be normal.”
Fact: People with mental illnesses can recover and resume normal activities. For example, Mike Wallace of “60 Minutes”, who has clinical depression, has received treatment and today leads an enriched and accomplished life.
Myth: “Mentally ill persons are dangerous.”
Fact: The vast majority of people with mental illnesses are not violent. In the cases when violence does occur, the incidence typically results from the same reasons as with the general public such as feeling threatened or excessive use of alcohol and/or drugs.
Myth: “People with mental illnesses can work low-level jobs but aren’t suited for really important or responsible positions.”
Fact: People with mental illnesses, like everyone else, have the potential to work at any level depending on their own abilities, experience and motivation.
How You Can Combat stigma:
Share your experience with mental illness. Your story can convey to others that having a mental illness is nothing to be embarrassed about.
Help people with mental illness reenter society. Support their efforts to obtain housing and jobs.
Respond to false statements about mental illness or people with mental illnesses. Many people have wrong and damaging ideas on the subject. Accurate facts and information may help change both their ideas and actions.
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