“One in four adults – approximately 61.5 Million Americans – experience mental illness in a given a year. One in 17 – about 13.6 million- live with a serious mental illness such as schizophrenia, major depression or bipolar disorder.” (http://www.nami.org/factsheets/mentalillness_factsheet.pdf)
“Stigma” can be defined as being shameful. Stigma is when someone perceives you in a negative way, either because you have a physical characteristic that stands you apart from everyone else, could be a speech impediment or a trait that that puts a individual at a disadvantage or in a negative light and different and a possible outcast from everyone else.
So, it is no surprise that those who suffer from mental illness or who have suffered from mental heath conditions are faced with a stigma or shame. Most of those branded with a scarlet letter and face some form of discrimination or may be ridiculed or avoided.
Those who battle or suffer in silence from the stigma of mental illness also suffer from low esteem and may be reluctant to seek or ask for help.
For many health insurance benefits don’t’ adequately cover mental ailments for the allotted time needed to recover or sufficient facilities with state of the art treatments, holistic or integrative in nature.
So, what can we do as individuals to change the way people perceive those suffering from an array of mental health disorders?
I interviewed my, Hilda G. and asked her what it what it was like being married to a Vietnam Veteran, who suffered from sever Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, PTSD, (then called post war syndrome). Her response was, “Like walking on egg shells”. She went on to describe how they really didn’t have a name for it in the 70’s. Only, that they hospitalized her husband, Patrick for a nearly three weeks, at the VA Hospital, near Milwaukee, WI. While Patrick explains, “that they did no mental health evaluations, it was all brain scans and electrodes.” He goes on to say, “it was a psych ward like ‘One flew over the Coo-Coo’s Nest’ sedating me, and making walk around in pajamas.”
He returned from Vietnam in the beginning of 1969 after the TED Offensive and fought in the height of the war. His year in Vietnam was spent 6 months inland near Northern part of South Vietnam near the DMZ, were he share’s how he spent 3 weeks in an underground bunker, not eating or ever coming outside, life in there was horrid. He shares that he lost all his toenails for sitting in water, that he was lucky to be alive.
Patrick reverts to speaking about the psychiatric ward and how escaped ward with the help of wife. Leaving all his belongings at the hospital. “It was a waste of my time,” Patrick said, “there was no such thing as PTSD then, and all they could tell me was that I had tension headaches, but I knew it was much more.”
Re-entry was hard for Patrick and his wife shared with me that he would wake up swinging and fighting in the middle of the night, have tremors and night sweats in his sleep. She goes on to share that the symptoms eased as the years passed, but Patrick started drinking more and becoming a Jekyll and Hyde when he drank, and road rage was common concern every time they got in the car.
Researchers at the Harvard School of Health, Columbia University of New York (SUNY), surveyed 1,377 Legionnaires who had served in Southeast Asia. “The study found almost 3 decades after the Vietnam War, many veterans continued to experience problems with PTSD”.
Well then why? A new report finds, “veterans face stigma and a complicated health system when seeking treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury.”
Mental illness takes on all different signs and symptoms. But one thing is certain all types of mental illness carries a level of stigma. So, the person suffering may experience shame