Stop the Stigma: Mental Illness is no Different from Physical Illness

Mental illness…just the thought of it seems to send chills down peoples’ spine because of the stigma associated with it. I have one question, why? People do not have the same reaction when they hear the term diabetes, obesity, stroke…I can go on. Diabetes and depression have a lot in common…after all both are due to an imbalance of chemicals—insulin for diabetes and ones such as serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine for depression. You know what, ENOUGH IS ENOUGH.

Because of this stigma, people are afraid to seek help because they are afraid of being labeled “crazy”. The only “crazy” thing is that the stigma continues and that makes me very sad and angry. There are so many people that could be getting the help they need if it weren’t for this. I cannot tell you how many people I see who come in for their physical and if it weren’t for the fact that I ask about their mood, they would never share with me that they are feeling depressed. I have even had instances of asking and they say they are fine then proceed to cry and admit that they have been depressed for a long time. ENOUGH IS ENOUGH.

enough is enoughI do not have any problem asking my patients about depression, substance abuse, anxiety---any uncomfortable topic. Sure, it would be easier for me not to but is that fair to the patient? If I do not bring up the subject, and patients are afraid to bring up the subject, then everyone suffers. The patient suffers, the patient’s overall health suffers, and the patient’s relationships suffer. ENOUGH IS ENOUGH.

While there is less of a stigma than there was 10 years ago, this stigma still exists. I have thought long and hard to figure out how to abolish this. Again, most have no problem telling just about anyone that they have diabetes yet I do not know many that would say to someone “Well, I was just diagnosed with mental illness.” We have the ice bucket challenge for ALS, the many walks/charity events for cancer that millions of people participate in, but mental illness? I am sure there must be campaigns for mental illness too but nothing comes to mind because mental illness has a stigma. ENOUGH IS ENOUGH.

stigma-chalkboardI do not know what the answer is. I have thought about changing the name to brain imbalance syndrome but would that then get a stigma? What I do know is if more people talk about it, if people treat everyone the same no matter what illness they may have we all can make a difference by bringing a stop to this stigma. Do not be afraid to ask your family or friends how they are, especially if you see signs of depression, anxiety, substance abuse, eating disorder, etc. Encourage those to get help, or better yet, offer to take them to see a doctor. I know this is an uncomfortable discussion at first, but once everyone is talking about it, it then becomes the norm and the stigma dissipates. I do not have all the answers, but what I do know is that ENOUGH IS ENOUGH.

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    Nancy Chodash

    I am a nurse practitioner who not only treats patients, but has had chronic illnesses including cancer so I understand how frustrating medicine can be. But through all this, I have never lost my sense of humor and my ability to make people laugh. I love to cook, and since becoming gluten-free a year ago, I have recipes for everyone's tastes whether it be healthy, decadent, vegetarian, or gluten-free. My philosophy is all about health, food, laughter and life!

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