Good Life

Health Break | Education helps to challenge stigma of mental illness

When you think of a person with mental illness, do the words “violent,” “unpredictable,” “dangerous,” “self-inflicted” or “irresponsible” come to mind? If so, then you share a commonly held opinion regarding mental illness. Unfortunately for those living with a mental illness, the stigma and discrimination created by these misconceptions means they not only must deal with the symptoms and disabilities caused by their illness, but they must also manage the stigma that often accompanies it.

The prejudices that often come with a mental illness diagnosis may interfere with a patient’s ability to land a job, safe housing and satisfactory health care. According to a study published in the American Journal of Public Health, approximately 40 percent of people with serious mental illness in the United States do not receive adequate medical care.

In addition, patients with mental illness can suffer from self-stigma, causing them to turn against themselves. This happens when they feel ashamed and/or feel they are mentally weak because they cannot control their illness. Self-stigma can result in lower self-esteem, delays in seeking help, as well as patients not complying with treatment or medication. In extreme cases, it also can lead to homelessness and drug or alcohol use.

Studies have shown that the stigma of mental illness exists throughout all social and economic groups, and is reinforced by negative stereotypes of people with mental illness in the media.

Additional research has helped to develop strategies to change the public’s perception of mental illness. Educational programs, for example, can help people achieve a more informed and positive attitude toward mental illness. The opportunity for the public to meet and get to know people with mental illness as co-workers or neighbors is another way to change existing stereotypes.

Web-based programs, such as “Time to Change,” use guidebooks, blogs, videos, TV ads and promotional events to help raise awareness and challenge the mental health stigma. It is hoped that these initiatives will help to erase the stigma that has long affected people with mental health illness and their road to recovery.

In honor of national Mental Illness Awareness Week, on Oct. 3 Mount Nittany Health will host a free screening of “Call Me Crazy: A Five Film” at the State Theatre. The film will be followed by a panel discussion about mental illness led by various mental health professionals from community organizations. While admission is free, anyone interested in attending is encouraged to call the State Theatre at 272-0606 to reserve tickets.