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Removing the stigma of mental illness.

Posted Oct 22 2008 6:16pm

For many people, it's tough to separate their panic, anxiety, or depression from their self-worth. They look at their ailments as the sign of a character flaw, as though they deserve their mental anguish. One of the reasons it's tough to escape this trap is that often shame prevents the mental ill from reaching out to others, from getting help. According to a recent article:

Fear stalks our lives on so many levels that it is perhaps not surprising that one in four of us will experience some form of mental upheaval; a fact that in itself may intensify distress. "But the good news is that the majority of us will get completely better and we won't have a recurrence," says Professor Sheila Hollins, President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, which is holding its annual conference in Edinburgh this week.

Reasons to be cheerful, then? Not entirely. The dark side is that many people, unaware of the strong likelihood of recovery, suffer in secret. And the reason - shocking in what it says about our society - is shame. "People tend to hide their mental illness because of the stigma still attached to it. They are loath to talk about their depression, their anxiety attacks, their eating disorder, agoraphobia, or long and very disturbing bereavement response because they assume these are incurable. And they also fear that in some way these conditions make them a lesser person."

Making matters worse is the way the media portrays mental illness:
"Seventy-five per cent of stories about mental illness link it to violence," says Hollins. "Yet the truth is that it's a minority of people who are a risk to anyone else."

...However, the media's readiness to apportion blame can deter individuals from seeking treatment, and does nothing, Hollins says, to encourage employers to become informed and compassionate about the subject.

But if cancer can stop being a taboo, Hollins believes, so can mental illness.
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