Taking The Stigma Out Of Having A Mental Illness

Mental illness affects one in five American adults

Mental illness affects one in five American adults at some point in their life. (Photo: Getty Images)

Conversations about mental health are finally coming front and center in American society. But what took us so long? For too long, we’ve been silent about mental illness, even though some of our family members, friends and co-workers struggle with it.

More than 44 million adults have a mental health condition, according to Mental Health America, a nonprofit dedicated to addressing the needs of those living with mental illness. The rate of youth experiencing a mental health condition continues to rise. And even more alarming is the number of people who remain undiagnosed or without access to care, leaving them vulnerable and in pain.

Imagine having only one day a week, a month, or longer that you feel good. Imagine not being able to recover that good feeling again and knowing the things that activate and aggravate your condition are out of your control. Not having control is a frightening thought isn’t it?

When most of us say we’re overwhelmed, that feeling usually has something to do with time management or our inability to say no to things. But our loved ones with mental health challenges dream of the ability just to control their emotions in real time.

In a documentary set to air on LOGO, Former WNBA star and University of Tennessee standout Chamique Holdsclaw talks about her rise to basketball stardom and a career that was cut short by mental illness and a near-suicide attempt. Time_Sports

I was asked recently to moderate a panel discussion on mental health and sports at the #askmewhoiam: Conference on Youth Culture, and we built the conversation around the documentary “Mind/Game: The Unquiet Journey of Chamique Holdsclaw.” As we began to unpack the movie about the former WNBA and Tennessee basketball star and her coming to terms with mental illness, one of the young panelists admitted he had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. To my surprise, the young man was someone I’d known since he took his first baby steps. I applauded his bravery and so did many others in an audience that crossed racial, gender, age and socioeconomic lines. Mental health does not discriminate.

More funding and support for mental health is needed. Mental illness is not something our society can ignore, hoping that it just goes away. It’s not going away. In fact, the number of people who suffer from mental illness is only going to get worse, primarily because of the societal stigma that makes coming forward and getting diagnosed difficult. This stigma exists because we don’t understand mental illness – even when it’s right in front of us.

There are two things we must do immediately to be more effective dealing with mental health:

  • Fight to remove the stigma and rebrand those living with mental illness as courageous. If we lovingly embrace those who are struggling, like so many mental health agencies and supporters do, we build advocacy and keep them from suffering in silence.
  • Find, increase and go all-in on funding for mental health. 

Shanti Das, a good friend of my brother Brent, has struggled with mental health and is doing something about it. She has launched a platform called “Silence the Shame” targeted toward the hip-hop music and entertainment culture to keep conversations, support and solutions front and center. She even designated May 4 as National Silence the Shame Day.

While no one person has all the answers, like Shanti, we can all do something. I am using my platform to raise awareness and, hopefully, make someone living and struggling with mental illness see that someone cares.

Wayne Box Miller is a Symmes Township resident, author, communications professional and member of The Enquirer Board of Contributors

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  1. You’re absolutely right that mental health doesn’t discriminate! It can hit anyone at anytime!

    More awareness needs to be shed. It’s time the stigma is erased!

    • Hi Leigh, thanks for the comment. I agree with you completely. Time the stigma is erased. All the best Erin

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