Let’s talk about a serious subject – mental health

Obesity carries a stigma
Obesity carries a stigma

With all the enlightenment and open-mindedness that people today claim to have, there are two areas that carry the burden of stigma and prejudice. The two groups of people who continue to be the objects of jokes, tricks, fear, and loathing are the overweight and those suffering with mental illness. If you don’t think that’s true just watch a heavy person try to sit in a small chair with arms. Or perhaps think about when Melissa McCarthy was nominated for an Oscar and went to a few fashion houses to have a gown made and they dissed her by refusing. They didn’t want their clothing line associated with a fat person. Sadly, prejudice is still alive.

Let me give you an example of a situation with someone who is mentally ill. A young woman had been off her medications and was outside an upscale restaurant in San Diego making a scene. She also happened to be topless. The police were called. A crowd had gathered, but not one of them had the brains of a wombat or the heart the size of a peanut to take off a jacket or sweater and attempt to cover her. What happened instead? The crowd got out their cell phones and started taking pictures of the woman in distress! When they police arrived they were shocked at the camera phones flashing. The people only stopped when they were informed their phones would be confiscated. I wonder who was the insane one there? A person with a conscience would never lower themselves to that level.

Mental illness can strike anywhere and anyone. There are a whole cluster of things that can contribute to the development of a psychiatric illness. Genetics play a part as does family history. Environment, for sure. Home life and nurturing or lack thereof are often a factor. Abuse of any kind can contribute as well. Throw in alcohol and drugs, including street drugs, and mental illness can manifest itself. As much as we would like to think it is a small problem, it is not.

The National Institutes of Mental Health estimates that 26.2% of Americans experience a diagnosable psychiatric disorder sometime in their lives. That’s a quarter of the population. Did you think it could be that high? Six per cent experience a serious and disabling mental condition, such as schizophrenia. In 2003, 12.4 million Americans, which is 4.8% of the population, receives benefits for an emotional or mental disorder. A disability is defined as difficulty in performing tasks of daily living, which include working, showering, driving a car, etc.

Nineteen million American are diagnosed with anxiety disorders and the rates in women are twice as high as in men. Two point three million persons in this country are diagnosed with bipolar disorder. This illness has been commonly called manic-depression. Some of the other things that people suffer from are ADHD, with boys 2 to 3 times higher than girls having this diagnosis. Anorexia in young women is about 3.7% of the population. Depression can range from having the “blues” to being so bereft suicide is felt to be the only option to take away the pain.

History shows that people with mental illness have been misunderstood and mistreated in all ages. For example, in the Middle Ages those who were mentally ill were believed to be possessed by demons. In the late 1700s they were thought to be no better than animals. Treatment, if you can call it such, was imprisonment or banishment. Until 1770, visitors to St. Mary of Bethlehem Hospital were charged a small fee to see the patients. By the way that hospital was located in Bedlam, England. Treatments were often beatings, bleedings, forced feedings, confinement to dank cells, etc.

If you think about it, treatments have improved a lot. Taking care of psychiatric patients is now a specialty as is critical care and oncology. Sufferers of mental illness are people like the rest of us who suffer from an illness that is as long-lasting and devastating as cancer and diabetes. Yet, as evidenced above by the story of the people at the restaurant, the attitudes of a lot of people have not improved much in all these years.

Why am I writing about mental illness? Because it is out there and not going away any time soon. There are a significant number of people who suffer from psychiatric disorders in this country and the world. You may know someone in your own family, neighborhood, or work place. You may have a loved one who committed suicide. I work in a psychiatric hospital and these folks are very near and dear to my heart.  I cannot deny that sometimes their behaviors are odd or quirky or scary, but they are not circus side show freaks. Mentally ill patients deserve respect as does any other person on this planet.

Yes, there is still a stigma out there. By becoming informed, you can be a part of the solution. Feel free to ask questions. Knowledge is power.

Have a great week! Blog you later!

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