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Don’t stigmatize those with mental illness

By Angela Cain | Thursday, May 16, 2013 1:24 pm

If someone has cancer, heart disease or certain other physical ailments, we have compassion for them. But there is one illness that often elicits shame, not compassion. It is silenced in many families and that silence can add to the burden of those who have it: Mental Illness.

Think about it. If someone in your family suffers from depression, anxiety disorders, bi-polar disorder or schizophrenia, do you share that information as easily as you do other health conditions? Over the centuries, our society has conditioned us to feel as if mental health issues are something to hide – a character flaw.

When we feed into that stereotype, we may inadvertently send a signal to friends and family with mental illness, that they would be judged, unloved or shunned. Research shows that the causes of mental illness are usually a combination of biological, psychological and environmental factors.

It is not the fault of the person with the mental illness.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, a chance for all of us to learn more about a condition that impacts more than 57 million Americans each year. These are our sisters, our brothers, our daughters, sons, mothers and fathers. Why should we let them suffer in silence or shame?

NaKaisha Tolbert-Banks, director of education and public affairs for Mental Health America Indy, says, “If left untreated, issues surrounding a mental illness can get worse. It is vital that families stick together and be a support for their loved one with mental illness. If a family member is reaching out for help, stand by them until they have been connected to treatment to ensure their safety and the safety of those around them.”

She says seeking treatment can be intimidating and embarrassing, so she suggests ways that loved ones can help. “Maybe it’s simply a phone call to help them make the connection to a treatment provider or a ride to an appointment. Maybe it’s simply being a listening ear.”

Tolbert-Banks also debunks the myth that people with mental illness are inherently violent. She states, “Statistics show that the incidence of violence in people with mental illness is not much higher than that of the general population.” When violence does happen, she says it is usually because the person with mental illness feels threatened, or is excessively abusing alcohol and/or drugs, some of the same violence triggers in the general population.

If someone you know has a mental illness, please remember, they did nothing wrong. There are life-changing treatments available for them.

Mental Health America or MHA, can help connect them to services. Call 1-800-969-6642 to get the conversation started. You can also call MHA, if you’d like to learn more about mental health issues or volunteer to help.

My mother raised me by the Golden Rule. “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” Treat people with mental illness with respect, compassion and dignity. Wouldn’t you want the same? They should not suffer in silence.

You can email comments to Angela Cain at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . or for general questions please contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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