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The Persistent Stigma of Mental Illness

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states ...Read More

All of the surveys and statistics show that approximately one out of every six people will suffer some form of mental illness at least once during their lives. These illnesses range from depression to anxiety disorders, panic attacks, schizophrenias and the bipolar disorders. The numbers are probably a lot higher but it is fairly certain that many people never seek help for their emotional problems or fail to answer surveys in a ways that are honest and forthcoming. Herein is part of the problem: too many people continue to place a stigma on mental problems.

It is shocking that many individuals continue to refuse medications for depression, anxiety and other problems because they fear what will happen if other people learn of this. Specifically, they fear that friends and family will judge them to be crazy, irrational or too weak to solve their problems. There are even people who refuse to file insurance claims for psychotherapy because they fear their employers will fire them. People who are dating fear their boy or girl friend will reject them if they find out they are taking Prozac or some other anti depressant. There are even cases where individual will refuse to enter psychotherapy either because they fear being stigmatized by others or because they stigmatize themselves for experiencing emotional difficulties.

What is unpleasant about this is that these fears about being stigmatized are not unfounded. I have heard even educated people express the view that depression represents weakness. What I find hypocritical about some of these individuals is that while they criticize those who take psychiatric medications, they themselves find no fault with the fact that they consume bottles of beer on a daily basis.

In addition, while filing medical claims is supposed to be totally private, the simple fact is that, as a result of filing claims for any medical condition, places the private life and illnesses of the individual patient in the computer files of the insurance company. Can anyone guarantee that this information will not be used against a person sometime in the future? Many years ago a candidate for vice president of the United States was rejected by the media and the public for having been treated for depression. His competence was called into question because he once had a mood disorder. Should Winston Churchill have not been the leader of the United Kingdom during World War Two because he happened to have a bipolar disorder?

The fact is that mental illness is just like any physical disorder. In this case the organ that is affected is the brain. With medication and psychotherapy people find relief from their emotional problems. This relief is made possible by the fact that the chemical imbalances in the brain that contribute to mental illness are restored. The individual is able to continue their daily life without interference from their moods. In fact, they are then better able to handle the stressors that plague all of us from time to time.

It is time we came out of the dark ages with regard to mental problems and admit that every one of us is capable of and probably will experience some type of emotional disorder sometime during the course of our lives.

What do you believe? Your comments are invited. Please tell us what you think and, if you wish, what your experiences have been.

Keep Reading By Author Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D.
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