October 2nd – 8th is Mental Illness Awareness Week. During this week mental health advocates and organizations across the U.S. join together to sponsor a variety of events to promote community outreach and public education concerning mental illnesses. This week was established to recognize the efforts of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) to educate and increase awareness about mental illness.
In Wisconsin 11.4% of adolescents aged 12-17 have experienced a Major Depressive Episode (MDE) in the past year. More alarming is the fact that 58.7% of those adolescents who experienced a MDE did not receive any treatment for depression. One of the most common reasons those who suffer from a mental illness do not seek treatment is due to the stigma associated with a mental illness.
Stigma is an attempt to label a particular group of people as less worthy of respect than others and is a mark of shame, disgrace or disapproval that results in discrimination. Stigma associated with mental health can lead to:
- Inadequate insurance coverage for mental health services
- Fear, mistrust, and violence against people living with mental illness and their families
- Family and friends turning their backs on people with mental illness
- Prejudice and discrimination
Although the Americans with Disabilities Act covers people who suffer from mental illness they often experience discrimination in the workplace, education, housing, and healthcare. This discrimination is often more severe in non-white communities.
It is important that we all do our part to help fight mental health stigma. We can each fight stigma by:
- Use respectful language – put the person before the illness, never use terms like crazy, lunatic or psycho and correct people who do so.
- Provide professional development opportunities for staff regarding mental health issues and foster an inclusive work environment – include mental illness in discussions about diversity in the work place.
- Become and advocate – speak out and challenge stereotypes to media, lawmakers, and friends and family.
- Teach others about mental illness – spread understanding that these are illness like any other.
For more resources on how to fight mental health stigma visit http://www.nami.org/.