Highland Rivers Health: It’s past time to erase the stigma of mental illness



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mental disorder, Highland Rivers Health: It’s past time to erase the stigma of mental illness

Editor’s note: Oct. 1-7 is Mental Illness Awareness Week.

Mental illness is sometimes called the invisible illness — but for very different reasons than people might call high blood pressure a silent killer.

While both invisible and silent would seem to imply stealthy, secretive diseases, hypertension is referred to as a silent disease because individuals affected by it often have no symptoms. Even so, when an individual learns he or she has high blood pressure, there is little shame in acknowledging it — even if that individual’s lifestyle choices may have contributed to it.

The same is not true for mental illness. Individuals with mental illness have symptoms, sometimes mild and sometimes severe, but almost always distressing. And it may only be “invisible” to the extent an individual does not recognize his or her unusual thoughts, feelings or emotions are symptoms of mental illness — and many don’t. At least at first.

But a more profound reason mental illness might remain invisible is stigma. We don’t want to think about mental illness. It scares us. The fact is, not all that long ago we as a society tried very hard to make mental illness invisible. People with mental illness were simply locked away in asylums, and having a family member in such a place was a shameful and well-guarded secret.

Despite our desire to turn away, or run away or ignore it, mental illness has never gone away. With continued research…