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Let’s Dispel the Stigma of Mental Illness

By Kathy Hubbard
“Mental illness leaves a huge legacy, not just for the person suffering it but for those around them,” British actress Lysette Anthony said. Probably best known to us for her role in Woody Allen’s “Husbands and Wives,” Anthony knows first-hand the challenges of living with mental health issues.
In an interview she gave to the Daily Mail in early 2013, Anthony described how her mother suffered from both manic depression and schizophrenia. Just a few months prior, her mother had accidentally died in a house fire.
Anthony said that she was giving the interview “in an attempt to dispel the secrecy and stigma surrounding mental illness …” And donated the earned fee to a mental health charity.
Secrecy and stigma. These two words often describe how people feel when either they or someone they love suffers from one or more of the many different types of mental illness. The statistics tell us that approximately one in five adults in the U.S. (43.8 million or 18.5 percent) experiences mental illness in a given year.
According to National Alliance on Mental Illness 50 percent of mental health conditions begin by age 14 and 75 percent of mental health conditions develop by age 24.
“The normal personality and behavior changes of adolescence may mimic or mask symptoms of a mental health condition. Early engagement and support are crucial to improving outcomes and increasing the promise of recovery,” NAMI’s website states.
Let’s take a brief walk through the most common mental illnesses.
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is what its name implies. It’s a developmental disorder where there are significant problems with attention, hyperactivity and/or acting impulsively.
When anxiety becomes overwhelming and repeatedly affects a person’s life, it may be an anxiety disorder.
Autism spectrum disorder is also a developmental disorder that involves difficulties with socializing and communicating.
“Bipolar disorder causes dramatic highs and lows in a person’s mood, energy and ability to think clearly,” NAMI says.
“Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is characterized by severe unstable mood swings, impulsivity and instability, poor self-image and stormy relationships.
“Depression is more than just feeling sad or going through a rough patch: it’s a serious mental health condition that requires understanding and treatment.
“Dissociative disorders are spectrum of disorders that affect a person’s memory and self- perception.”
Eating disorders are a form of mental illness and, I think, we all know what posttraumatic stress disorder is, as well as sleep-wake disorders, sexual dysfunctions, gender dysphoria and substance-related and addictive disorders.
In today’s vernacular many people will claim to have OCD or obsessive-compulsive disorder, they often don’t. “Obsessive-compulsive disorder causes repetitive, unwanted, intrusive thoughts (obsessions) and irrational, excessive urges to do certain actions (compulsions).
“Schizoaffective disorder is characterized primarily by symptoms such as hallucinations or delusions, and symptoms of a mood disorder, such as depressive or manic episodes,” NAMI explains. The symptoms are similar to schizophrenia whose signs also include extremely disordered thinking and behavior.
This is not a totally comprehensive list, but you get the idea. Suffering from mental illness is no different than suffering from heart disease or arthritis. Often genetic, mental illness can be caused by biological, psychological and environmental factors, not flaws in one’s character.
Trying to understand the disorder, trying to understand the treatment options, trying to cope with day-to-day living can be extremely difficult for one suffering with mental illness and loved ones need to understand what the sufferer is going through.
A must-read book was published last year by the American Psychiatric Association called “Understanding Mental Disorders – Your Guide to DSM-5.” (DSM-5 is the bible healthcare professionals use for diagnosing and treating mental illnesses.) This new publication drills down the medical jargon into language we all can understand. A lot of the book is excerpted at www.psychiatry.org if you want a preview.
Although one might be tempted to self-diagnose, it’s never recommended. If you or a loved one is experiencing a disturbance in thinking, feelings or behavior see your primary care provider as quickly as possible.
“Overcoming mental illness will take some work and effort,” the APA says, “but there is always hope – and help.”
Kathy Hubbard is a member of Bonner General Health Foundation Advisory Council. She can be reached at 264-4029 or kathyleehubbard@yahoo.com.

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