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Another Voice: Mental illness still carries an unwarranted stigma

By Sandra Donahue

Mental illness is a disease. Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? It’s anything but simple. Getting the general public to destigmatize mental illnesses still has a long way to go.

If asked, most people would answer, “Of course it’s an illness!” But that’s for public consumption. Their hearts and minds are still back in the stigma years.

Those who suffer from mental illness still are not treated as are those with physical illnesses. That is a crime, because the last time I checked, brain and biochemical imbalances originate from disturbances within the physical body.

But still the two remain distinctly separate in most people’s minds.

There are so many mental illnesses that getting the correct diagnosis and treatment can often take a decade or more. Each condition is distinctly different, but can exist alongside another mental illness.

Mental illness is very hard on the patient. Work can sometimes be impossible, family dynamics are upset and the death rate can be staggering. Most deaths are due to suicide, reckless behavior, accidental overdoses or just wandering off and becoming a homeless victim of the streets.

If you have good friends, eventually you may feel the need to tell them that you suffer from a mental illness. If you’re lucky, they will remain your friends. If you’re not, they will slowly distance themselves from you. This distancing rarely happens with, say, a heart condition.

The most important support network for the mentally ill comes from their doctors and their families. Take either one out of picture and their lives can easily be thrown into utter chaos.

The death of a significant other for such people is magnified by the fact that not only have they lost a beloved, but also, in most cases, their anchor to mental stability.

Why is it we don’t have these same feelings for the mentally ill? When are our reactions going to catch up with the science? The science that any chemical imbalance in our own bodies could suddenly cause us to be counted among them? Any family history could also suddenly show itself in us.

Please do one small thing today. Go to any mental health website and learn about something that you have been blessed to not suffer from.

Sandra Donahue is a retired registered nurse living in Williamsville.