The fear of revealing a mental illness is very real, striking on many levels. Those living with mental illness have realistic fears about the consequences of disclosing their mental illness. This fear fuels self stigmatization - a powerful form of stigma that shatters self esteem, plummeting individuals into a world of secrecy and shame. Stigma results in people avoiding working alongside, socializing with and/or living in close proximity to people with mental illness. Revealing a mental illness compromises the pursuit of and the sustaining of employment, access to health insurance, personal and family relationships as well as basic day-to-day activities.
Odds are that at some point in your life either you or someone you know will have a mental illness. More than 1/4 of the population - a figure that is likely higher but not documented due to the stigma of disclosure and treatment - is living with a diagnosable mental illness. It is also likely that everyone will experience a bout of mental illness that remained unidentified and untreated because of stigma. These illnesses might include, but are not limited to depression, social anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. With early and appropriate treatment of these illnesses, there is a solid record of positive outcomes.
The reality is that every individual living in every one of our communities benefits when mental health is understood and embraced. We have a fundamental obligation to afford every individual the opportunity to pursue a full and productive life, and those living with mental illness can and do live very productive lives, often leaving a historic legacy. However, those living with mental illness are trapped by their stereotypes. We laud Winston Churchill - who lived with mental illness - and yet we shun our neighbor living with mental illness. We must remember that society has been and always will be enriched by the contributions of those living with mental illness.
The fact is that mental illnesses is an inextricable part of our total health dynamic and just like other illnesses, mental illnesses can be treated and many of those diagnosed recover completely. For those who think that they or someone they care about has a mental illness, there are resources and avenues for treatment.
Mental Health America
National Institute of Mental Health
National Alliance on Mental Illness
We Connect Now
New Jersey Division of Mental Health Services
New Jersey Mental Health Resource List
New Jersey Self Help Group Clearing House
Collaborative Support Programs –New Jersey
Pathways to Promise
Mental Health Today - Mental Health Stigma
Action Speaks Louder UK Campaign
Oxford Journals Schizophrenia Bulletin - Study of Stigma [pdf]
NJ Mental Health Cares - NJ Mental Health Information and Referrals
Treatment Options Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
Treatment Options Anxiety Disorders
Treatment Options Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder
Children are so often misdiagnosed because so many parents are unclear about the symptoms of mental illness, especially when "normal" childhood behavior can sometimes mimic manifestations of adult psychopathology. Even when symptoms are evident, many parents slip into denial. Denial is common, steeped in the stigma surrounding mental illness and a result of the fear and shame born out of misconceptions. Today, parents are fiercely competitive and status conscious in regard to their child's development. As a result, they might turn a blind eye to mental health issues that could invoke discrimination and social rejection for their children, simply hoping it will just go away.
Be an advocate for your child. If your child's whole development is important to you then it is vital that you embrace mental health as part of the total picture. By educating yourself about mental illness, you can actively seek the proper treatment for your child. In doing so, you provide your child with the opportunity to live a full, happy, and productive life. Furthermore, just by sharing your experience with others, you can help fight the stigma that prevents so many parents from seeking treatment for their children.
The teen years are prime time for the onset of mental illness. However, it can be treated if the illness if properly diagnosed in a timely fashion. Once again, the challenge here is stigma. Teens face enormous pressure from parents, peers, and the world around them. This is a time of passage into adulthood, and the growing pains are very real. Because of stigma, a teenager admitting that he or she might have a mental illness can create a variety of unfavorable consequences including social rejection, professional barriers, and a lack of understanding from family and friends.
Parents, peers, and teachers must embrace mental health and understand mental illness if they are to support the health and well being of young people who are their children, their friends, and their students. A community effort can be crucial during adolescence, a time when seeking and subsequently receiving treatment for mental illness can literally become a matter of life or death.
The Jed Foundation
Transition Year Project
Send Silence Packing
The Trevor Project
Teen Mental Health
Mental illness in adults includes but is not limited to depression, panic disorder, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, agoraphobia, ADD/ADHD, and post-traumatic stress disorder.- Although these conditions are treatable, stigma stands in the way of treatment. Mental illness - as is the case with other illnesses - can spiral when left untreated. Additionally, adults face different stressors than children and adolescents, and they also face different kinds of stigma. In many cases, adults try to accommodate their mental illness, some having struggled in this accommodation since childhood. However, one cannot really accommodate a mental illness without negative outcomes. When adults attempt to "cover up" their illness, the illness still compromises quality of life issues including physical health, family and professional relationships, and self esteem.
Older adults are extremely vulnerable. According to the Surgeon General's Report on Mental Health, conditions such as depression, Alzheimer's disease, anxiety, and late-life schizophrenia can be severely impairing - even fatal in older adults - if left untreated. In the United States, the rate of suicide - which is frequently a consequence of depression - is highest among older adults relative to all other age groups. Unfortunately, in addition to the stigma of mental illness, older adults face age discrimination. When presenting their concerns to doctors, friends, and even loved ones, these concerns are often dismissed as simply being a part of the aging process. As a result, older adults suffer needlessly at a time in their lives when they deserve to live of well being, with dignity.
Resources for Support Groups