It seems that any time I speak with someone today about mental health disorders, there is a common theme. In almost every conversation, each person reluctantly says that either they, a family member(s) or both, suffer or have suffered from a mental health disorder. I usually bring up the topic because of my work with Cure Brain Disease. After talking about our coalition’s work, they say something like, “Well …… I have (some type of mental health disorder) , and am on medication for it.” Then they tell me about other members of their family who have struggled with a mental health disorder. Some mention that a family member died by suicide. Even though not all suicides are considered to be the result a mental health condition, many of those who have died by suicide were experiencing some type of mental health condition, such as major depressive disorder or anxiety.
The reason I mentioned that those I’ve spoken with ‘reluctantly’ admitted to having a mental health condition of their own, or that of a family member, is because this says to me that we still have so far to go in the area of stigma. Despite the many celebrities speaking out about their own mental health struggles, there is still an enormous amount of stigma surrounding mental health disease. This has to stop.
According to The American Psychiatric Association, stigma and discrimination can contribute to worsening symptoms and reduced likelihood of getting treatment. A recent extensive review of research found that self-stigma leads to negative effects on recovery among people diagnosed with severe mental illnesses, including reduced hope.
Something else I notice in speaking with people about mental health are the number of times they mention that their family members also struggle with mental health disorders. This speaks to the heritability of so many of the serious conditions which we view as brain diseases.
According to NIH, scientists have long recognized that many psychiatric disorders tend to run in families, suggesting potential genetic roots. Such disorders include autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), bipolar disorder, major depression and schizophrenia.
And according to NCBI, Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and major depressive disorder (MDD) are highly comorbid. A possible explanation is that they share four symptoms, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – Fourth Edition – Text Revision (DSM-IV-TR).
So now. Let’s just think about all of this for a minute. Almost everyone I come into contact with, when speaking of mental health, tells me they have, and at least one family member has a mental health disorder which they are taking medication for. That’s a lot of people suffering from mental health disorders!
But remember, they are hesitant to mention this, meaning that there is still a great deal of stigma surrounding mental health conditions. I find myself wondering, just how many people do have some type of mental health condition, and of those, how many suffer in silence due to stigma?
We must all stand up and do something about this. Advocate for research. Educate the children so mental health conditions will become a part of normalized conversations. And break the stigma. Talk about your mental health like you would about your physical health. It’s way past the hour we do this.
Also, please support our Moonshot for Mental Health petition to Congress, and share with as many people as you can! Be well!