The Truth About Mental Illness

Theresa Presley MSW, LCSW, RPT, CTS, and Community Services Director at Pathways Community Health chats with Tonia Wright about the impact of mental health stigma.

Q: Where are we in the fight against mental health stigma?
A: It’s human nature to fear what we don’t understand. We know that stigma is based on lies, but it’s also built within a social context and permeates throughout our relationships.

The effects of stigma are felt in the silence and shame that surrounds mental health issues. Stigma has created an “us and them” attitude in our society. The stigma that is attached to mental health issues is very powerful and the struggle to change the stigma won’t happen overnight. We have to continue to increase the dialogue about mental health. The more we learn the truth, the quicker we can move toward healing and recovery as a society.

Q: What is the truth about mental illness?
A: According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), one in four adults experience mental illness in a given year. Approximately 20 percent of youth ages 13 to 18 experience severe mental disorders in a given year. For ages 8 to 15, the estimate is 13 percent.

Despite effective treatment, there are long delays – sometimes decades – between the first appearance of symptoms and when people get help.

Left untreated, many mental health disorders in childhood can continue into adulthood. A child that is suffering is not learning, and we know that education is the answer to combat risk factors such as incarceration and poverty. We either pay now or pay later.

Q: Some argue gun control over more mental health resources. News headlines showcase mentally ill persons with firearms who murder and injure innocent people in masses. These incidents perpetuate mental health stigma. What’s your take on this?
A: First, let me say that people with mental illness are much more likely to be the victims of violent crimes than perpetrators of violence. I believe that both issues need a frank discussion but want to caution against stigmatizing people with mental illness. The mental health care system in our country is fragmented and under funded. The correctional system makes up the largest mental health care provider in the nation; that should concern all of us!

There has been a lot of media coverage on mass shootings. What I find most alarming is that it is not until after lives are lost that the perpetrator’s mental illness is realized or treated. For most mental health conditions, prevention works, treatment is effective and people do, in fact, recover.

People seeking help for mental illness require a lot of support. NAMI estimates that the economic cost of untreated mental illness is more than $100 billion each year in the U.S. Yet, the federal government passed a budget in 2013 that cut federal funds for mental health by over $20 million. As a nation, we need to look at the state of mental health in America.

If you are struggling with a mental health issue, or are concerned about someone else, please contact Pathways Community Health’s 24/7 crisis line at 1-888- 279-8188.

This post was republished with permission. To read the full interview, please visit Access Health News.

Mental Health Care

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