I wrote this last year for The Frugal Feminista, but I felt it was important to share again. Saturday, October 10 was World Mental Health Day and this year’s theme was Dignity and Mental Health.
Dignity is defined as “the state or quality of being worthy of honor or respect”, and one of the least respected groups of people in our society are those who have been diagnosed with a serious mental illness. They are often the butt of jokes and we believe that we should be afraid of them. They are pushed into a corner and not discussed until a tragedy happens. Although mental illness affects 1 in 5 Americans, it is still one of the least discussed and underfunded health issues, especially in minority communities.
Words like “crazy”, “psychotic”, and “lunatic” are often used to describe people that have been diagnosed with a mental illness. Many people do not know that serious mental illness is the result of a chemical imbalance in the brain. Just like any other major organ can become defective, so can the brain. Sometimes this imbalance is due to biological factors, sometimes due to environmental factors. Can you imagine forever labeling someone as “lazy and undisciplined” that had a heart attack as a result of bad eating habits and lack of exercise? No matter what the cause of the illness, the fact remains that members of our society that have become ill. We often sympathize and hope to cure lung cancer, even for the person that smoked a pack a day for 20 years, however when it comes to the person with paranoid schizophrenia we want to lock them up throw away the key. The ability to empathize and support those with cancer, heart disease and even some mental illnesses such as Alzheimer’s came from being made aware of these illnesses-the who, what, & whys. It was because of knowledge, understanding and maybe personal experiences that we all came to know about the dangers of breast cancer and heart disease. Let’s begin to increase our knowledge of mental illnesses.
We don’t often hear about mental illness until a tragedy occurs. Mental illness seems to be the scapegoat, but often not much information is given on the specifics of the illness or other factors that may have influenced the person’s actions. This is part of the reason mental illness has become a form of modern day leprosy. It is my hope that as the government commits to helping our military veterans with their mental health, the stigma is decreased for all. I hope as popular tv shows create characters that have been diagnosed with a mental illness that we can begin to empathize and support.
I firmly believe that we cannot respect those we know nothing about. As mental health care begins to be discussed by Presidential candidates, I hope they continue to discuss it and not just because of the current headlines. I hope that as a society we can take time and read, watch a video or even talk to someone who has a mental illness (or someone that loves someone with a mental illness). Once we are aware, we understand and with understanding comes empathy and respect and that is followed by a desire to help or improve. Let’s work together to improve mental illness awareness, mental health care and erase the stigma once and for all.