The last acceptable stigma

The last acceptable stigma

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SALT LAKE CITY — While racism, sexism and ageism are socially unacceptable, it seems that discrimination against one group remains: people suffering from mental illness.

Be honest with yourself: Are there any particular segments of society you look down upon? If so, there is a good chance you will find a person struggling with mental illness there. The “weird neighbor” that never ventures from their home may suffer from social anxiety. The kid that does not fit in at school may have an autistic spectrum disorder. How about that co-worker that just can’t seem to get it together? Are they a “slacker,” or are they struggling major depressive disorder or bipolar disorder?

They probably will not tell you about their secret. They know about the stigma of mental illness; how it is rampant and unchecked.

Sadly, not only do they fear judgment from you, they often judge themselves very harshly. They do not want to have a mental illness. They want to be “normal.” So, they do the worst thing they can do as a person struggling with a mental illness: They usually isolate, suffering in silence.


Would they come to you? Would they tell you that they are having a manic phase? Would you listen with compassion if they told you they just made themself vomit to fit into a size 4? Would you find somewhere else to be if they admitted that they cut themselves with a razor? Would you recognize that when they gave you their prize autographed basketball, that was a warning sign of suicide?

Are you listening? Do you have compassion or contempt?

Perhaps neither. Maybe you pass no judgment on “those people,” but are just too busy with your own life. Besides, you don’t know any of “those people,” right? Are you sure? Your parents, grandparents, children, friends, neighbors, co-workers – surely none of them are one of “those people,” right?

Are you sure?

What about you? Do you suffer from a mental illness? If you are a young person and you snicker at the “crazy” people, know that the age of onset of schizophrenia is between 18 and 25. If you’re a woman that scoffs when you hear your friend complain that they just cannot get out of bed, you might stay your judgment until after the children are born, lest that finger be pointed back at you should you get postpartum depression. Though you may have lived a perfectly “sane” life to date, you may make a new friend in your old age named dementia, causing you to behave in ways that you might find reprehensible were you to witness it in another. “Those people” need your help and your compassion.

Mental illness is not just affecting “those people.” It is affectingour people. Though they will probably not tell you, 13 percent of the people you associate with in Utah are taking antidepressants. Since Utah is in the top 10, there is a good chance that you know someone who has attempted or completed suicide.

NAMI Walk 2011
NAMIWalks is NAMI's signature fundraising event that seeks to raise awareness about mental illness, increase community education and outreach for families and individuals, and supports local NAMI affiliates.

When: September 24, 2011
Where: Valley Regional Park
5100 S. 2700 W. Taylorsville
Walker Check-in: 9:00am
Walk begins: 10:00am

CLICK HERE to register.

I urge you to take action.

There is no greater advocate for those struggling with mental illness than the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). They are the friend, big brother and champion of everyone in Utah who endures a mental illness. They fight for funding and rights up on the hill. They teach families how to help and give support. They offer a wide range of groups and classes to those struggling. Their advocacy is a necessary ingredient to the good mental health of our community.

NAMI is a non-profit organization. On Saturday, Sept. 24, NAMI will have its annual fundraiser, the NAMI Walk. You can give of your time by walking, give of your money by donating, or both. The Walk is more than just a 5K stroll — it is a statement. When you walk with NAMI, you are saying to friends and loved ones, “You can come to me if you are suffering from a mental illness.” When you walk, you break the silence, fight the stigma of mental illness and raise awareness that mental illness is putting our loved ones at risk.

Learn more about NAMI and register for the Walk. You are even welcome to join me for the Walk. We will have special activities for Team Happiness 101 and give you an opportunity to find out the latest in positive psychology as gleaned from the recent 2nd Congress of the International Positive Psychology Association.

Join us. You will literally be happy you did.

Frank Clayton is a Licensed Professional Counselor specializing in Happiness. He offers a free class called Happiness 101 based on scientific research. In October 2011, he will offer the class online to reduce suicide in Utah.

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