Robin Williams’ Death; Destigmatizing Mental Illness
By David Martin, President and CEO of VeinInnovations
Last week, a very funny man passed away unexpectedly. Known for wild stand up humor and touching movies, Robin William’s suicide was a shock to fans. William’s death was also a sad reminder that whatever our public veneer may be, anyone can struggle with mental illness. This week, I’d like to focus on the prevalence of mental illness and efforts to end the stigma that keeps so many people from receiving the treatment they deserve.
Mental illness is far more prevalent than public discourse would lead us to believe. True, when a high profile actor dies of a common problem – like William’s suicide or Philip Seymour Hoffman’s drug overdose – a slew of articles follow. Collectively, we decry either the lack of discourse, funding for treatment programs, or understanding. These articles are well and good, but more important than increased discussion in public spaces is the discussion we have in our homes, with our children, friends, and family members.
Despite the prevalence of mental illness – nearly one in four Americans suffers some form of mental illness each year – the stigma persists. Feelings of shame accompany struggles with mental illness such as depression, anxiety, or eating disorders. Society and cultures across the globe view mental health problems in a very negative light. This causes social distancing – avoiding and separating ourselves from people who are challenged. If we perceive the person living with a mental illness to be dangerous, we distance ourselves even further. Unfortunately, our perception of danger is almost always wrong. The vast majority of people with mental illness are not violent. They are, in fact, much more likely to be the victims of violent crimes than the perpetrators.
Stigma and social distancing lead to “self stigma” in people suffering from mental illness. Left socially isolated and lonely, people with mental illness are much less likely to receive the treatment they need. (Worldwide, 60 percent of the 450 million individuals struggling with some form of mental health problem do not receive treatment of any kind.) The dissolution of a mentally ill person’s social network can be devastating; such isolation is associated with poor physical and mental health, and even early mortality. It’s common sense; humans in peak physical and mental fitness agonize when isolated from others. We rely on our communities in sickness and in health.
If you or a loved one are living with mental illness (or have in the past) I’ll say what you’ve no doubt heard before, but may need to hear again: you are not alone. Your experience is not exceptional; it’s far more common than you may realize. There’s not an easy path through mental illness; few health articles about the topic end with a brief list of wellness suggestions. There are many resources available on the Internet that can help improve understanding and point you to real-world sources of help. I’ve listed a few below. Be well.
From the CDC: Attitudes Towards Mental Health
Other sources for help with Mental Illness and Addiction:
www.aa.org Alcoholics Anonymous
www.nami.org National Alliance on Mental Illness