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Mental illness It's not always what you think

Stigma and discrimination against those living with mental illness is widespread and reaches into schools and institutions of learning, employment, housing, health care and media. It causes shame, prejudice and hopelessness and inhibits over half of those living with mental illness from seeking treatment. This creates serious personal and societal consequences. When shame is removed from the equation, people with mental illness will more readily seek treatment, achieve recovery and engage in meaningful activities.

 

Stigma is the largest obstacle to recovery, treatment and societal acceptance for people living with mental illness. Stigma and discrimination was a major theme during Sacramento County's Mental Health Services Act (MHSA) community planning process from 2005-2011. Continuing the efforts of the MHSA initiative, the Sacramento County Division of Behavioral Health Services (DBHS) initiated a multimedia, mental health promotion and stigma and discrimination reduction project. The goal is to fundamentally change negative attitudes and perceptions about mental illness and demonstrate that people living with mental illness are everyday people leading meaningful lives.

 

The anti-stigma and discrimination project ultimately seeks to eliminate the barriers to achieving full inclusion in society and increase access to mental health resources to support individuals and families. All of us can make a difference by making a commitment to end stigma and discrimination.

 

A mental illness causes mild to severe disturbances in thinking, perception, mood and/or behavior. These disturbances can affect a person's ability to cope with life's demands and routines. However, with education, support and treatment, people can—and do—recover and live fulfilling lives. Studies indicate that the earlier a mental illness is identified and treated, the better the chances are for full recovery.

Common mental illnesses include:

  • Adjustment disorders
  • Panic disorder
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Depressive disorder
  • Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
  • Eating disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Schizophrenia

The Real Threat: Stigma and Discrimination

Stigma is the rejection, avoidance or fear people direct toward those they perceive as being "different." Stigma becomes discrimination when it deprives people of their civil rights, access to fair housing, employment opportunities, education and full participation in life. According to a landmark 1999 United States Surgeon General report, stigma is "the most formidable obstacle to future progress in the arena of mental illness and health."

Stigma comes from other people, from institutions and even from self-imposed shame. Individually, each source of stigma represents a major barrier. Collectively, they can be profoundly damaging and difficult to overcome. Stigma can shatter hopes of recovery and social inclusion, leaving the person feeling devastated and isolated.

Nearly half of the adults in a national survey said they were unwilling to socialize with, work with, or live near someone with a mental illness. People living with mental illness often say the stigma and discrimination associated with their illness can be worse than the mental illness itself.

 

The truth is, numerous people living with mental illness go about their everyday lives and successfully fulfill their roles at work, home and in their community. Unless self-disclosed, no one would know that a neighbor, co-worker, supervisor or chief executive officer has a diagnosable mental illness.