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Our View: Shed stigma of mental health issues

Published: Friday, Sept. 21, 2012 5:30 a.m. CST

Most of us feel little shame in visiting a doctor if we’re feeling sick.

The same doesn’t always hold true for those of us whose illness is mental.

And yet, mental illness is almost as common as physical illness. The National Institute of Mental Health estimates 26.2 percent of Americans ages 18 and older – about one in four adults – suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year.

Mental illnesses and disorders can include anything from panic disorders, social phobias or post-traumatic stress syndrome to problems such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. They can be just as much, if not more, of a handicap for people in their daily lives as a physical illness.

But there’s a stigma attached to being identified as someone who needs help with mental health. People often are judged to have some kind of character flaw or to be potentially dangerous. Some, particularly men, have been raised to think seeing a therapist or mental health counselor is a sign they’re not tough enough to hack it in life.

For those who develop a mental disorder and choose not to seek help, though, it’s a lot tougher to hack it than for those who seek help.

That’s part of the reason why we’re pleased to see Northern Illinois University hosting a campuswide Say It Out Loud Mental Health Awareness Week.

This week’s events have offered students and residents the chance to talk about mental health issues and ask questions of professionals. They’ve allowed people to share their stories about struggling with disorders.

Especially for men, the late teens and early 20s are the prime age when mental issues such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia begin to manifest themselves, bringing about confusing and alarming changes in an individual’s behavior.

As always, the first step to solving a problem is identifying the problem. Sometimes, the problem is obvious to the people afflicted, or if not to them, certainly to those around them.

People in our society are affected by a broad spectrum of mental health issues. Knowing where to turn when those issues arise is important. There are a number of community resources available, including the Ben Gordon Center (www.bengordoncenter.org). The DeKalb County Mental Health Board (www.dekalbcounty.org/MH/mental_health.html) also can refer people to other local agencies.

There are also a number of mental health counselors in the area.

Before people can make use of the resources available, they must understand there is no shame in seeking help. Generally, those who seek help from a doctor or therapist find out that life becomes much easier after they do.

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