Eliminate the Stigma of Mental Illness

In the next 13 minutes, someone in America will commit suicide and that cycle will repeat itself throughout the day.

By the end of the day, 22 veterans will be among the dead. By the end of the year, 41,149 Americans will have killed themselves.

And those are just the people who can't take it anymore.

Millions of Americans live with mental illness. It can range from depression to schizo-effective disorders and beyond.

Life can seem hopeless, leading them to take their own lives, and, as we've seen repeated again and again, the lives of others.

But it doesn't have to be that way.

Mental illness can't be cured, but it can be treated, sometimes achieving complete remission of symptoms.

First, the sufferers have to get help.

That isn't easy as they have to overcome the stigma that says there's shame in what they're suffering. That they're weak for seeking help.

If they can overcome that, then they have to find a psychiatrist; and that isn't all that easy. There are around 14 psychiatrists per 100,000 people nationwide.

Psychiatric nurse practitioners and physician assistants can help ease the burden, but overall, it still can take more than a month from the initial phone call to time of appointment unless you pose an immediate threat to yourself or others.

That wait can seem like an eternity.

In the meantime, the person with a mental illness needs a strong support system and that means you.

If you know someone who seems to be suffering, talk to her or him. Ask what's going on. It may be situational, something that can be handled with a counselor. Or it may be medical. Take the time to educate yourself. Visit NAMI.org, the website for the National Alliance on Mental Illness, and look up mental disorders and their symptoms. Find a depression checklist.

If you are educated about mental illness, it's less likely to be scary. You're less likely to be judgmental. You're better equipped to help those in need.

If you're religious, offer to pray, but realize prayer often isn't enough. If you prayed for someone experiencing chest pain, you'd still encourage him to see a doctor, wouldn't you? The same should hold true for a person with symptoms of mental illness.

People are dying needlessly. All this month, people will be talking about breast cancer. We joined fully in that conversation with our Pink Edition to kick off the month. Events continue, and pink ribbons are everywhere. It's a worthy cause that once people were ashamed to talk about as well.

Earlier this month was National Mental Illness Awareness Week. Let's find time to educate ourselves and talk about mental illness and its affects on individuals and society.

Let's eliminate the stigma. Let's ease the pain.

REPRINTED FROM THE NEW BERN SUN JOURNAL

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