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Shedding The Cuckoon

Psychiatrist Shelley Piasecki in a blog post entitled, We need to destigmatize mental illness, presents the case of a person who has been diagnosed with depression and anxiety who asks whether they should share this information with their family, friends, and coworkers.

The dilemma of whom to tell is no small matter because of the stigma attached to mental illness.

Stigma is defined as “a mark of disgrace, a stain or reproach, as on one’s reputation.” Unfortunately, stigma as it relates to mental illness remains strong today. It is a common misperception that having a mental illness is evidence of a personal weakness.

Ignorance propagates this misinformation. This is unfortunate, especially in the days when we have biochemical models of mental illness such as depression and schizophrenia. We know genetics plays a role and that mental illness can run in families.

Personal strength might be the way to overcome personal weakness was that the only thing that were the matter in this case. Strength used to be considered a virtue, and I’m not sure personal strength is the kind of thing we need to lose sight of. We are speaking of depression and anxiety, and I can see some of our ancestors laughing at these weak kneed modern day successors who expect so very few, or no bumps on life’s road.

Ignorance aside, misinformation has a way of propagating itself. Dr. Piasecki assumes biochemical models of mental illness proven when this simply is not so. The chemical imbalance theory rests on a profound lack of evidence, and to pretend that it doesn’t is to deceive people.

The role that genetics plays, and the extent to which it plays a role, is still pretty much up in the air. If we were to say that environmental, social and other external factors didn’t enter into play, we would be denying the facts in the matter. Unfortunately, in a que sera, sera fated by God sort of fashion, this is exactly what some mental health professionals try to do.

One in four Americans suffer from mental illness. Yet, despite all of this information, we have a long way to go in terms of considering mental illness in a more medical framework like other biologically based illness such as heart disease and diabetes.

One in four Americans may have visited a mental health professional at one time or another during their lives. This is not to say that they suffer from mental illness. If they did, why are they not receiving the kind of care recommended for those suffering from heart disease and diabetes? If the Doctor were making an argument for doping up a quarter of the population of the USA, it’s not a good one. 1/10 of the population was taking antidepressants in 2005, according to a recent study, but this had risen from 6% in 1996, and it was probably directly related to the influence of direct to consumer advertizing.

The better argument against the stigmatization of the mentally ill is the one that mental health recovery makes. This is the kind of argument you don’t get from Dr. Piasecki. Stigmatization is perhaps not the best word to use either. Dr. Piasecki’s sentiments aside, we are not dealing with the judgment of God here. People who have been institutionalized face prejudice and discrimination, just as do people of different races, genders, and sexual preferences. Prejudice and discrimination we can do something about. Stigma, on the other hand, won’t come off with soap and water.

When a person who bore a diagnosis of a serious mentally illness recovers his or her mental health, and goes onto accomplish some terrific things, then you have something you can crow about. The illusion here is that this recovery cannot take place. It’s a bad illusion, too, as it is based on the power of pessimism. This sort of cynicism need not prevail when real chances for success have been made available to people touched by the mental health illness system. Provide opportunities for success, and you are likely to see more people shed the role of mental patient, or mental health consumer entirely.

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