Mental health stigma is harming our youth

Oct 20, 2015 by

By Tom Watkins & Andrea Cole –

Mental health stigma is harming our youth.

Madeline is a high school student with a passion for journalism and an article published in the New York Times. Lexi loves painting. Will played football at the University of Michigan. The three have more in common than meets the eye: Madeline, Lexi, and Will have all experienced the challenges of mental illness that affect 1 in 5 young people during their lives, and they are just a few of the youths featured in the upcoming documentary along with local policymakers Governor Rick Snyder and Senator Debbie Stabenow, “Opening Minds, Ending Stigma: A Young Person’s Perspective.”

The documentary details the experiences of youth who have seen the challenges and societal stigma that mental illness can bring to a person’s life. Expand your awareness by tuning in to “Opening Minds, Ending Stigma: A Young Person’s Perspective”, which airs on WDIV (Channel 4) at 7 p.m. on October 24th or by visiting or

The documentary is the result of a partnership between The Detroit Wayne Mental Health Authority and the Ethel and James Flinn Foundation. Both organizations are dedicated to improving mental health treatment and putting an end to the stigmatizing views that have plagued our communities for decades.

Mental illness refers to a number of diseases of the brain, including major depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, anxiety disorders, and more. They are not something to be ashamed of, and are not in a person’s control. But, with proper diagnosis, treatment and support recovery is possible

One youth in the documentary declares, “I live with a secret that people can’t necessarily see.”

Often hearing the perspectives of those affected enables one to be able to understand what they are going through. It takes knowing what they’re up against to see that disorders of the brain, although we can’t see them – they are very real indeed.

DWMHA’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Carmen McIntyre, explains, “Technology has advanced to the point where we can now see differences in the structure and activities of brains with mental illness. This makes it clear that mental illness is not only real experientially, but a part of the physical world we live in.”

We need to stop stigmatizing people who seek mental health care. The National Institute of Mental Health describes “depressive illness” as a “disorder of the brain” — not a personal weakness. You cannot separate the mind from the rest of the body. The brain is arguably our most important organ – it houses our personality, emotions, memories, and more. But ironically, the rest of the body is privileged in medical treatment. Imagine having cancer, diabetes or high blood pressure and being afraid to tell someone about it for fear of society’s reaction.

Decades ago, people suffering from mental health issues were sent away and institutionalized. Today, things are better, but stigmatizing beliefs still lead to discrimination in the housing market, in employment, in education and often lead to violence against those with the disease. People with mental health issues are more likely to be the victim of a crime than the perpetrator. Awareness is the first step toward changing behavior.

Our children and our neighbors’ children deserve better. The youths who don’t receive treatment today do not simply go away. Most mental health issues present themselves by age 24, which means mental illness is an issue that affects the lives and schooling of high school and college-aged youths. Conditions grow worse without treatment, and adulthood only brings about more responsibilities. The transition into adulthood is stressful for everyone, but for those with mental illness, it can be unbearable.

Nearly 1 in 5 children ages 9-17 have a diagnosable mental illness, but in a given year, only 20% of these diagnosable children receive services. It’s an unfortunate state of affairs that young people and their families often avoid treatment due to societal shame and stigma. The fear of prejudice and being ostracized by family, co-workers and friends leads many with treatable mental health issues to conceal their conditions. The fear of being shunned is a heavy weight to cast aside as one battles a serious mental health issue.

Everyone deserves the opportunity to recover. Those burdened by stigma and shame come to believe the myths about mental health issues and are left hopeless as if the disease was their fault, and all their responsibility.

“Opening Minds, Ending Stigma: A Young Person’s Perspective” will help educate our community and reduce the ignorance that damages our communities. By increasing our awareness of mental health, we can create a world where people with these diseases feel safe.

If you or someone you know needs help with a mental health issue, intellectual/developmental disability or substance use disorder, call the Detroit Wayne Mental Health Authority crisis helpline at 800-241-4949.


Source: Opening minds, ending stigma: A young person’s perspective | The Michigan Chronicle

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