Contributed by Stacy Donovan |For nearly 70 years, organizations across the country have been drawing attention to the importance of mental health and wellness. And despite these long time efforts, as a collective community, we still struggle in darkness with respect to the way we view mental illness.Mental Health America, founded in 1909, is the nation’s leading community-based, non-profit dedicated to addressing the needs of those living with a mental illness and to promoting the overall mental health of Americans. Over 100 years ago, its founder, Clifford Beers said “we must fight in the open.”In this year alone, I in 4 adults age 18 and older will be diagnosed with a mental illness, mental health disorder, or experience a major mental health crisis. 18 percent of adults have a mental health condition encompassing 43 million Americans. The mental health of our youth is worsening. Rates of youth with severe depression increased from 5.9 percent in 2012 to 8.2 percent in 2015 with 1.7 million of them receiving no treatment.A recent study from the Center for Disease Control identified that nation-wide death by suicide across the life cycle is the highest in 30 years. Monmouth County alone had 58 completed suicides in 2017, an 18% increase over 2016.The CDC also reveals that in NJ 29 percent of high school students reported feeling so sad or hopeless for 2 weeks that they were unable to perform their normal activities, and 14% seriously considered suicide. It is now the second leading cause of death for youth aged 10-24.So, why aren’t we talking? Stigma.Jane Pauley, television news personality, former host of the Today show, and mental health advocate has been quoted, as saying, “a diagnosis is burden enough without being burdened by secrecy and shame.”For many people with mental illnesses, stigma is one of the main obstacles to pursuing treatment. When you consider the fact that less than half of American adults who suffer from mental health conditions get the help they need, it’s easy to see just how debilitating stigma can be. The average delay between the onset of symptoms and intervention is 8-10 years.Mental illness is an equal opportunity illness which knows no age, gender, race, religious belief, or zip code. Too often it is the invisible illness; and yet it should be viewed and addressed as any other chronic disease such as cancer, diabetes, or heart disease.Both youth and adults can knowingly or unknowingly endorse stigmatizing beliefs of people with mental illness, especially the belief that such individuals are prone to violent behaviors. Moreover, the beliefs of shame, blame, incompetency, punishment, and criminality of people with mental illness are common. Even casual referencing can have significant and potentially destructive consequences. People experiencing mental health conditions often face rejection, bullying, and discrimination.The time to start the conversation is now. It is time to open dialogue and engage in destigmatizing messaging and practices. Be part of the conversation – end the stigma.Stacey DonovanChief Development OfficerMental Health Association of Monmouth CountyThis article was first published in the May 31-June 7, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.
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