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Controversial Blog Highlights Stigma Behind Mental Illness


Author: Shernide Delva

A controversial blog is making its rounds on the internet this week, and it reminds us that mental illness stigma remains a real and grave problem.  Considering May is National Mental Health Awareness Month, it makes sense that a topic like this is gaining so much attention. A popular blogger, Amanda Lauren, wrote about how she felt the death of her friend was “a blessing” because she suffered from mental illness.

Lauren went on to say that because of her friend’s schizoaffective disorder, she has “nothing to live for” and that it appeared she had been taken over by a “demon.” The blog continues describing her former friend as “hopeless” and she ends with saying how relieved she was when she heard about her death.

“It sounds horrible to say, but her death wasn’t a tragedy, her life was…Schizoaffective disorder robbed her of reaching her potential…She was alone and terribly unhappy when died…This girl had nothing to live for,” she writes.

Needless to say, readers were not happy. Mental illness is something that affects 1 in 5 adults in the United States. That means 43.8 million, or 18.5% of the population experiences mental illness in a given year.  Those are the facts. For a writer like Lauren to decide that her former friend was better off dead because of her mental illness is very irresponsible. Many with mental illness feel like death is the only way out. They could read an article like the one Lauren wrote and feel  they are worthless to society. They may conclude that suicide is the only answer.

Stop Feeding the Stigma

Suicide is not the right answer. Education is. Mental health issues like depression and schizophrenia can be treated with the right medication and counseling. For example, Elyn Sak, a mental health scholar, talks about how schizophrenia almost ruined her life before getting treatment.  In a popular Ted talk, Saks says her chronic schizophrenia resulted in her spending hundreds of days in a psychiatric hospital.

Saks said she feared having to spend her entire life in the mental hospital. However, that did not happen. In fact, for almost three decades, Saks managed to stay out of hospitals. She graduated from Yale Law school and got her first law job. Saks is now a successful speaker and professor. She admits that if she could make her illness go away with a pill, she would take it in a heartbeat. However, she cannot.

“I don’t wish to be seen as regretting the life I could have had if I’d not been mentally ill, nor am I asking anyone for their pity. What I rather wish to say is that the humanity we all share is more important than the mental illness we may not. What those of us who suffer with mental illness want is what everybody wants: in the words of Sigmund Freud, “to work and to love.”

Sak’s journey is a powerful one, but more importantly, it teaches that those with mental illness are not hopeless. Their life is not useless nor are they just ticking time bombs whom would be better off dead. Their death is not a blessing. Their life is a blessing.

The key to overcoming mental illness is forgiveness. Chicago-based actor/artist Elizabeth Hipwell describes how learning to forgive her mind was the greatest thing she could have done for herself.

“I decided to focus that energy on myself to heal. Maybe I did need to be ‘selfish’ as the naysayers put it and make myself a priority. I decided to reject the shame that they placed on me and be gentle with myself, forgive myself for being sick. I am by no means a victim, and I hold no grudges. In hindsight, I understand that the reaction people had stemmed from fear and lack of knowledge.”

The fear behind mental illnesses can be traced far back into history. While efforts have been made to reduce the stigma, the truth is it is a scary disease.  The key is understanding the reasons behind why the mind behaves the way it does. In the same way, addiction is an illness; We need to see mental health issues for what they are: illnesses.

Today marks that last day of Mental Health Awareness month, however being aware of mental health illnesses should be a requirement every day of the year. No one should feel he or she are “better off dead” because of his or her mental challenges. Nor should anyone struggling to overcome an addiction feel hopeless. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135.

4 Things about Mental Health We Should All Respect

4 Things about Mental Health We Should All Respect

Author: Justin Mckibben

It’s a crazy world out there, but that doesn’t mean we have to make it worse by labeling the people in it crazy. Whether people are willing to admit it or not, there is great power in our words, and with that great power we should all take on a degree of responsibility for how we use them- especially with one another. Stigma insights subversion when it comes to healthier communication and a more unified society, so we all have to look at our words and the bad habits we have formed around throwing them at mental health and those who struggle with mental health disorders.

Passive stigma is part of the problem, because even though most would probably not actively vilify people suffering from mental illness there are many ways we have incorporated passive stigma into our everyday conversations to the point it is almost second nature.

Here are 4 things about mental health we should all respect.

  1. Addiction and Obsession Are Not Jokes

Addiction is a very real thing. Obsessive-compulsive behaviors are also complex conditions. Both of these disorders affect an incalculable population of people every day, and in some cases substance abuse or obsessive-compulsive behavior can leave a distressing impact on not just the people suffering, but on their loved ones and their communities as a whole.

People will say they are “addicted to Game of Thrones on Netflix” or they are “obsessed with Crossfit,” but are they?

While people use these kinds of comments to convey a deep passion for something, it can do a disservice to those who actually struggle with addiction or obsessive-compulsive disorder by misleading people and belittling the severity of these issues. As a result, some people won’t take real addictions or obsessions as serious because the terms have been so normalized to them.

  1. Eating Disorder Stereotypes Hurt People

Eating disorders in the United States are not uncommon. Some statistics state that an estimated 20 million women suffer from an eating disorder, while men with eating disorders (the silent epidemic) has reached around 10 million. These are disorders that are truly heartbreaking and often terrifying and demoralizing, and our culture has created false conceptions about eating disorders that are oversimplified and stigmatized.

Gender plays a big role in this too. Thin women are frequently accused unjustifiably for having an eating disorder, but their male counterparts are given a pass in the form of people assuming they care about fitness. The worst part- the majority of people with eating disorder issues are at or above a healthy weight, so this kind of stigma only promotes misinformation.

  1. Medication Is Part Mental Health

Has anyone ever asked you if you were “off your meds” or suggested that they need some medication to cope with a tough situation? None of this is very helpful to those in the mental health who actually do need medication.

Prescription medication can be essential for some people to maintain balance concerning their mental health, along with a comprehensive plan of physical and emotional treatment. When we mock medications as an important tool for mental health it has two distinctively harmful implications.

The first- that you use these medications recreationally, which also makes light of substance abuse and addiction

Second- that medication is the only answer to mental health issues, undermining other indispensable treatment methods.

  1. There is NOTHING Wrong with Getting Help

This one is especially important. Our society seems to have made a point in the past of making jokes about who “needs help” or “needs therapy,” using it as an insult instead of a resource for living a happier and healthier life.

The American Psychological Association created study done over a decade ago in 2004 that determined nearly half of all American households have someone who seeks mental health treatment in any given year. Yet despite the innumerable studies showing professional therapy has been highly effective in treating emotional conditions and mental health disorders people still stigmatize it and say it like a slur.

Stigmatizing talk about therapy and treatment for mental health disorders suggests the only people who need it are weak, sick, ill-equipped or narcissistic and a fear of being labeled as such could drive away countless people who could benefit from the treatment.

Far too many people suffer in silence, and some even perish as a result of untreated illnesses and/or risk behaviors associated with their mental health. We need to stop putting labels on mental health disorders and the common concepts that make it possible to treat them. As I said before, our words are incredibly influential and we have to use them with empathy and kindness for the people they could impact.

Words can always be weapons, sometimes more cutting than any arsenal, but they can also be the love and lifeblood behind the decision to take mental health more seriously. When we talk to one another let us respect the realities of mental illness and mental health recovery. Support the people around you who need help. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135

New Mental Health Movement Wants to Train Millions of Americans

New Mental Health Movement Wants to Train Millions of Americans

Author: Justin Mckibben

Mental health disorders, along with substance abuse and addiction, are increasingly ubiquitous among the population of the United States of America. Every day people are sick, suffering and dying due to untreated issues with mental health or drug use, and every day there are dedicated and compassionate individuals fighting to make a difference, but still too many are turning away from those who need help. Not because of cruelty, but because of stigma or lack of understanding the problem.

The National Council for Behavioral Health is hoping to break this cycle of misunderstanding, misinformation and untreated illness by changing the way mental health treatment works in America. The council has officially announced the launch of a new campaign, “Be 1 in a Million,” which was created in order to try and train 1 million people in Mental Health First Aid.

American Mental Health 

According to the National Council for Behavioral Health, one in four Americans will suffer from a mental illness or addiction every year. Recent studies have shown that more youth are becoming depressed.

  • There was a 1.2% increase in youth with depression
  • 3% increase in youth with severe depression between 2010 and 2013

Even more troubling then some of the most daunting statistics about the state of mental health in America is the deplorable rates at which people with serious disorders are going untreated. According to Mental Health America:

  • Nationally, 57% of adults with mental illness receive no treatment
  • In some states (Nevada and Hawaii), nearly 70% of adults with mental illness receive no treatment
  • 64% of youth with depression do not receive any treatment
  • Among youths with severe depression, 63% do not receive any outpatient services

Experts say that because of the lack of treatment, for those who struggle with a mental health disorder symptoms and impairment are likely to exacerbate over time, leading individuals to experience significant deterioration in quality of life.

New Mental Health Training Movement

The purpose of this new campaign for Mental Health First Aid training is to help fund scholarships for instructors who specialize in mental health and substance use, and provide grants to help instructors target more vulnerable US populations such as:

Thus far the National Council has already made a $1 million contribution to the campaign, which also received more than $15 million from Congress.

The crusade to combat mental health disorders has rallied the efforts of more than 500,000 people, including the First Lady Michelle Obama, trying to improve on the ways in which we identify someone who may be experiencing a mental health or substance abuse problem and how to encourage them to seek help.

To make a more pungent point on the prevalence of mental health issues Laira Roth, project manager for the National Council for Behavioral Health’s first aid course stated that compared to someone with a physical medical emergency,

“The truth of the matter is that you are more likely to encounter someone who is experiencing a behavioral health condition or crisis”

All over America various organizations have made a compassionate and resolute commitment to training people in Mental Health First Aid in the coming year. Bill DeBlasio, the Mayor of New York City, has pledged to train 250,000 New Yorkers for Mental Health First Aid, and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention held more than 100 training sessions already this last year.

Making a Move for First Aid

The National Council for Behavioral Health is adamantly urging every American to get trained in Mental Health First Aid, seeing as how odds are in a nation so mixed with millions of people and cultures every single American citizen is more than likely to know someone with a mental health disorder. Linda Rosenberg, president and CEO of the National Council said,

“This training is relevant to all of us. When you complete the Mental Health First Aid training, you will know how to intervene with someone who is actively suicidal, or help someone who is having a panic attack. You will be able to support a veteran experiencing PTSD symptoms, or a college student with a serious eating disorder. You will be able to recognize a coworker who may be struggling with addiction or a friend who is feeling depressed.”

So the overall goal for this campaign this year is to inspire more people to be more actively involved and aware of how mental health and substance abuse issues impacts every life and community to some extent or another, and that as we shatter stigma and create compassion we should all be willing to make a difference.

For more information on how you could help a friend or family member in need, check out:

Palm Partners understands the importance of mental health treatment when it comes to substance abuse, and dual diagnosis treatment is designed to acknowledge the overlapping nature of these disorders and create the right recovery plan to overcome the disease of addiction and confront issues with mental health. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135. We want to help, you are not alone.


Ohio Mandating Millions to Treat Mental Health

Ohio Mandating Millions to Treat Mental Health

(This content is being used for illustrative purposes only; any person depicted in the content is a model)

Author: Justin Mckibben

Today is another one of those days where I hear some news that makes me proud of my hometown- besides the fact that our Buckeyes crushed the Wolverines in college football this year. As someone from Ohio who faced down my own issues with depression, anxiety and drug abuse it gives me a great deal of hope for others coming from the same place I did to know that the state that will always be my home is doing some awesome things to try and help people in turmoil.

Mental health isn’t an easy task to tackle considering the stigma attached to it and also the fact that it isn’t always easy to spot or easy to address. Not all communities have enough resources to help those with mental health disorders. Some people often slip through the cracks, and others with mental health disorders end up in jails or prisons without ever having a fair shot at the kind of treatment they badly need.

This month Ohio took a major step in addressing mental health care, and I have to say I’m proud to take the time to write about it. The Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (MHAS) announced recently that there will be $3 million in grants distributed to address the mental health needs of offenders in county jails, hoping to improve the quality of life and break the cycle of chronic risk behavior that leads to repeated imprisonment.

Mental Health Facing Hard Time

Numbers have gotten up to at least 3 to 6 times higher rates of serious mental illness in jails in comparison to the general population. Another sad part of this troubling reality is that nearly 3/4 of adult inmates with serious mental illnesses are also in the grips of very serious substance abuse disorders. MHAS director Tracy Plouck visited the Mahoning County Minimum Security Jail in Youngstown to make the announcement about this decision and express how these funds would help change the tides of mental health care in Ohio. She stated:

“Too many Ohioans with serious mental illnesses and substance use disorders are lingering in our jails—not getting the help they need,”

In America there are approximately two million people each year that enter the jail system with serious mental health disorders such as:

According to a press release issued by the MHAS,

“Of that total, many are also dealing with substance abuse issues from attempts at self-medication. Once incarcerated, persons with untreated mental illnesses and substance use disorders tend to stay longer in jail and are at higher risk of re-arrest than individuals without these illnesses.”

So every year we see millions of people being cycled through the jails in America, some end up in prison, who are severely impacted by mental health conditions that go overlooked. They receive punishment instead of treatment, becoming trapped in a loop of addiction, crime and arrest that eats away at the time-line of their lives.

The state of Ohio seems to have seen enough of this, now gearing itself toward meeting this issue with new ideas that have probably been largely inspired by the spiking rates of arrests and deaths connected to the opiate epidemic. So how will this money be spent?

Stepping Up to Change

All this money is being distributed to provide several resources to inmates on the path to rehabilitation, including:

  • Mental health and addiction treatment
  • Connection with additional treatment options once they’re out

The goals these programs hope to obtain include:

  • Reducing the likelihood of re-arrest
  • Increasing public safety
  • Relieving overcrowding in jails

Some grant recipients will receive free training from the Stepping Up Initiative, which aims to reduce the number of people in jails with mental health disorders. Ultimately Plouck says the hope is continued progress by investing in partnerships between local mental health and addiction services boards and their partnering county jail and sheriff’s office in order to properly address the influx of people suffering with mental illness who end up in jail and never get the help they need, which goes far beyond being locked-up.

It would appear Ohio officials have taken notice to the fact that drug addicts and people with other severe mental health disorders are not all the same. They are still just sick people who we need to try to help get better.

Mental health disorders and substance abuse often exist together and there are specific programs out there to holistically heal those who suffer. Dual diagnosis treatment options are effective and life-saving. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135

The Stigma of Suicide on the College Campus

The Stigma of Suicide on the College Campus

Author: Justin Mckibben

I have written about stigma in many contexts, but regardless of the forum stigma is always one of the worst elements of any illness as it is based only on presumptions and prejudices instead of facts and logic. Today I’m writing about how the issue with mental health and suicide has become stigmatized and marginalized in college campuses, and ask how much more can be done to change the face of mental illness for the future scholars of this world.

The Numbers Game

According to the most recent national survey of the American College Health Association’s and 2 other studies:

  • 30% of college students reported feeling “so depressed that it was difficult to function” at some point over the past year.
  • Nearly 3/4 of respondents in a 2011 study of college students by the National Alliance on Mental Illness who were diagnosed with mental health conditions said they experienced a mental health crisis while in school.
  • The number of students seeking counseling for “severe” psychological problems such as depression jumped from 16% in 2000 to 39% in 2012
  • Around 10% of college student respondents had thought about suicide in the past year
  • But only 1.5 percent admitted to having made a suicide attempt

So with so many students experiencing some sort of mental health concern, why is it the colleges are having so much trouble handling these issues without stigma?

The Word of the Law

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and other federal disability laws prohibit discrimination against students whose psychiatric disabilities are described as “substantially limit a major life activity” and the legislation also dictates that colleges and universities provide them with “reasonable accommodations” which includes:

  • Lower course loads
  • Extended deadlines

All this requires that the student also meets nondiscriminatory academic and behavior standards, and provided their disability does not pose a significant risk of substantial harm that cannot be alleviated by those reasonable accommodations.

The Problem

The problem is a very complex one. Starting with despite that very clearly stated law (ADA), countless of current or recent students at colleges and universities across America have reported being punished for seeking help, including:

  • Being kicked out of campus housing with nowhere else to go
  • Abruptly forced to withdraw from school
  • Involuntarily committed to psychiatric wards

Professor Peter Lake, an expert on higher education law and policy has said,

“Colleges are very accustomed to accommodating learning and physical disabilities, but they don’t understand simple ways of accommodating mental health disabilities,”

Professor Lake sees widespread fear and reluctance across the board to endorse what he calls:

“diversity that encompasses mental disabilities and mood disorders.”

Most lifetime cases of mental health conditions begin by the age of 24, so college is the typical age group for these conditions to manifest. Thanks to stigma reduction efforts and other factors college students are more likely today to ask campus counselors for assistance, but some administrations are so worried about things like:

  • Potential liability
  • Getting a reputation as a “suicide school”
  • The safety of the community

So instead of giving them or even informing them of their federal rights, they discipline students with mental health issues.

But this tends to have anything but a positive effect on the situation. Kicking students off campus for mental health issues typically does more harm than good. Isolating them from their support systems when what they really need is stability and empathy is actually detrimental to their personal development. Moreover, it’s often a completely unnecessary overreaction, and it can only exist with fear and stigma attached to mental health.

The Dangers

Sometimes, it’s clear that universities need to force students to leave for the safety of others. There have been various stories that showed the dangers posed to students when one with mental health issues remains on campus and unchecked, such as April 2007, when a senior at Virginia Tech named Seung-Hui Cho shot and killed 32 people and wounded 17 others on campus. This Virginia Tech Massacre took the nation by storm with the nature of tragedy.

Cho had been diagnosed with severe anxiety disorder, and 2 years before the shooting his creative writing teacher had warned the administration that Cho’s poems were disturbingly angry and violent.

But not all people with mental health should carry the blame, because although some studies suggest a link between mental illnesses and violence, people with mental illnesses are very rarely violent. American Psychological Association Panel of Experts Report on gun violence reiterated in 2013,

“The overwhelming majority of people with serious mental illness do not engage in violence toward others,”

The panel also claimed that such people: “should not be stereotyped as dangerous.”

While no college or university has ever been held liable for a student’s suicide. But many employed sanctions against self-harm after Elizabeth Shin, a student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) set herself on fire in 2000.

Shin had written several suicide notes and talked to university counselors about killing herself, and the Massachusetts Superior Court allowed her parents, who had remained unaware of her condition, to sue MIT administrators for $27.7 million.

Students with mental health issues achieved landmark legal victories in the years after the tragedy with Elizabeth Shin. Examples such as:

  • In 2006, George Washington University reached a confidential settlement in a high-profile case charging that it had discriminated against a student who had sought hospitalization for depression.
  • The City University of New York (CUNY) paid $65,000 plus attorneys’ fees to a student who sued after she was kicked out of her dorm room at Hunter College because she was hospitalized after a suicide attempt.
  • CUNY also withdrew its automatic-exclusion policy and now reviews each situation.

After these instances more schools started paying attention to ADA violations, and subsequently devoted more resources to students with mental health conditions after those lawsuits.

An Office of Civil Rights (OCR) spokesman claimed the OCR:

“understands that there is a critical need for guidance addressing the rights and responsibilities of postsecondary institutions and students with mental health-related disabilities”

The spokeman added the OCR was actively developing policy, but is unable to disclose how many students with mental disabilities file complaints.

Changing the Curve

There are 2 key nonprofit advocacy organizations with national outreach that have started changing the curve in the past decade by creating guidelines and reducing stigma:

  • The JED Foundation
  • Active Minds

Both were founded by family members of young men who committed suicide, making great strides for students for suffer.

History is full of men and women with mental health issues. One suffered from clinical depression and constantly talked about suicide, and he became the president of the Free World… his name was Abraham Lincoln. We as a nation have to do what we can to take the stigma out of mental health (including addiction) to provide the best support possible to those who need it, because we never know what those people could be. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135

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