Dignity and Mental Health: Why awareness matters

26No matter how educated, talented, or cool you believe you are, how you treat people ultimately tells all.  Integrity is everything.~Unknown

Saturday, October 10 is World Mental Health Day and this years theme is Dignity and Mental Health.  Dignity is defined as “the state or quality of being worthy of honor or respect”, and one of the least respected groups of people in our society are those who have a mental illness.  They are often the butt of jokes and made fun of.  They are pushed into a corner and not discussed until a tragedy happens.  Although mental illness affects 1 in 4 Americans, it is still one of the least discussed and underfunded health issues.

Words like “crazy”, “nuts”, and  “lunatic” are often used to describe people that are mentally ill.  That would be like labeling someone as “clumsy and stupid” that tripped, fell and broke a limb.  Can you imagine calling someone as “lazy and undisciplined”  that had a heart attack as a result of bad eating habits and lack of exercise?  Many people do not know that serious mental illness is the result of a chemical imbalance in the brain.  Just like any other major organ can become defective, so can the brain.  Sometimes this imbalance is due to biological factors, sometimes due to environmental factors.  No matter what the cause of the illness, the fact remains that members of our society that have become ill.  We often sympathize and hope to cure lung cancer, even for the person that smoked a pack a day for 20 years, but just want to lock up the person with paranoid schizophrenia and throw away the key.  The ability to empathize and support those with cancer, heart disease and even some mental illnesses such as alzheimer’s came from being made aware of these illnesses-the who, what, & whys.  It was because of knowledge, understanding and maybe personal experiences that we all came to know about the dangers of breast cancer and heart disease.  Let’s begin to increase our knowledge of mental illnesses.

We don’t often hear about mental illness until a tragedy occurs.  Mental illness seems to be the scapegoat, but there is often not much information on the specifics of the illness or other factors that may have influenced the person’s actions.  This is part of the reason mental illness has become a form of modern day leprosy.  It is my hope that as the government commits to helping our military veterans with their mental health, and as popular tv shows create characters that have been diagnosed with a mental illness that the stigma is decreased. I firmly believe that we cannot respect what we do not know.  As mental health care begins to be discussed by Presidential candidates, I hope they continue to discuss it and not just because of the current headlines.  I hope that as a society we can take time and read, watch a video or even talk to someone who has a mental illness  (or someone that loves someone with a mental illness).  Once we are aware, we understand and with understanding comes empathy and respect and that is followed by a desire to help or improve.  Let’s work together to improve mental health care, and erase the stigma of mental illness once and for all.  

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