Lisa Ferentz LCSW-C, DAPA

Healing Trauma’s Wounds

The Perception of Mental Illness: Stigma or Reality

Shining a spotlight on mental health awareness.

Posted May 27, 2016

CCO Public Domain / Pixabay
Source: CCO Public Domain / Pixabay

Mental illness is an issue that effects millions of people! One in five Americans struggle with mental health related issues. One in 20 Americans live with serious mental illness including schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder, or recurrent major depression. When we focus on a person’s mental health, we look at the ways in which it impacts their thoughts, emotions, moods, ability to relate to others, efficacy at work and school, and their behavioral choices. In essence, when their mental health is compromised, it impacts all arenas of their life as well as the lives of their loved ones. 

The World Health Organization has crystallized some troubling facts about mental disorders and they warrant our attention:

  • 800,000 people commit suicide every year.
  • Suicide is the second leading cause of death in 15-29 year olds. 
  • For every completed suicide there are 20 others that are attempted.
  • Mental disorders double after trauma such as participating in or being victimized by war or being a victim of a natural disaster.
  • The leading cause of disability in the United States is the combination of substance abuse and mental disorders.
  • There is a very high correlation between mental disorders and an increased risk of getting sick from other diseases including HIV, diabetes, self-harm, and unintentional injury.

Despite the fact that we are able to talk more openly about mental health, tragically, people continue to avoid seeking treatment due to stigma and discrimination. Our culture still perpetuates the belief that people suffering from mental illnesses are not intelligent, extremely violent, or incapable of making decisions that profoundly impact their lives. Many countries are still guilty of violating the human rights of patients with mental illness by supporting the use of restraints, the denial of privacy, and the use of seclusion. These insensitive, and in some countries, inhumane acts, are rationalized as legitimate and necessary treatment modalities. One of the biggest barriers to mental health resources is the poor distribution of social workers, nurses, psychiatrists, and psychologists in low and middle-income countries. Low income countries have .05 psychiatrists available per 100,000 people.

Whether we approach these issues as mental health professionals, the loved ones of friends or family members who struggle, or someone who has been diagnosed with a mental disorder, we all need to speak up to challenge the stigma and prejudices associated with mental illness. We have a social and ethical responsibility to advocate for their right to receive appropriate treatment and to be given equal rights in the workplace. Living with mental illness can be extremely challenging, and we need to acknowledge the courage and resiliency that exists in people who are working so hard to lead productive and meaningful lives.

With the conclusion of Mental Health Awareness Month, lets challenge ourselves, as professionals, to make a difference and change the world's perception of mental illness.