How You Can Help Fight the Stigma of 'Mentally Ill'
In August of 2009, I co-founded a national organization created to combat the stigma of mental illness. We called it BringChange2Mind. I was compelled to do it because my sister, Jessie, lives with bipolar disorder and my nephew, Calen, lives with schizoaffective disorder and I realized that they were in a life-and-death battle, fighting to survive not only the symptoms and treatment of their illnesses, but the terrible stigma that surrounded them. I learned that, globally, one in four families is touched by mental illness. Mine happens to be one of them. I decided to do something and BringChange2Mind was born.
Change never happens without action. In the past, companies have made commitments to change their policies and behavior affecting the environment by signing the CERES Principles; people in the LGBTQ community by becoming signatories to the Equality Principles and others have altered discriminatory practices like apartheid in South Africa by signing the Sullivan Principles. These Principles are working.
This weekend, in San Diego, in front of an audience of 9000 at the Society for Neuroscience's big convention, Jessie, Calen and I launched the BringChange2Mind Princiiples. Inspired by one of our amazing volunteers, who lives with bipolar disorder and PTSD, our Principles were a group effort. They are concrete and actionable.
Over 57.7 million Americans -- 26 percent of the country -- live with a diagnosable mental illness in any given year. Yet two-thirds of those affected never seek treatment in large part due to the stigma of being labeled "mentally ill," and the resulting discrimination in social relationships, housing and employment. Tragically, every 17 minutes someone in American commits suicide, 90 percent of whom are living with some form of mental illness. Mental illnesses remain the leading cause of disability in the U.S., costing society over $190 billion annually. With one in four families having a family member living with a mental illness, there is also a hidden cost -- the drain on productive work by family members caring for loved ones.
So we present the BringChange2Mind Principles to you today. Your signing on to them will make a difference. You will be helping to create a future in which shame is replaced with dignity, misinformation with truth, discrimination with understanding and isolation with community.
The principles for people living with a mental illness:
I am living with a mental illness that is treatable and manageable.
I am a valuable and valued person and I deserve to be treated with respect.
I am responsible for the decisions and choices I make in my life.
Educating myself about the symptoms of my illness, and any side effects I may have from treatment, will help me find and use the resources I need to work toward stability.
Communicating about my experiences with others will help them support me in difficult times and keep me "on track."
If I am feeling suicidal, it is critical that I reach out for help, for in the face of real pain and suffering, it is others who can help me with a commitment to live.
I can reduce stigma in myself and in others by being open about living with mental illness, naming it out loud, and raising people's awareness.
The principles for everyone:
It is likely that someone I know is living with a mental illness and that fear of stigma may be preventing them from accepting their illness and seeking help.
I can make a difference by learning about mental health issues and the devastating effects of stigma.
If someone I know exhibits sudden changes in behavior, I will pay attention and reach out to them.
If someone I know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, I will take it seriously and make every effort to ensure they get help.
I will not perpetuate or tolerate stigma of any kind and will commit myself to changing the way society views people living with mental illness.