Imagine a truck driver collapses over the wheel and slams into a school bus killing eight children. He'd had a heart attack. Now imagine a man takes a gun, enters a theatre and shoots randomly, killing eight children. It seems he had an acute psychotic break. The truck driver probably won't go to jail. But the young man? He'll be maligned and incarcerated. In truth, neither one is to blame for their illness or the tragic unpredictable events.
The stigma that is still associated with mental illness keeps so many hidden away. Fear is our biggest enemy: fear of receiving the diagnosis; fear of accessing care; fear of others finding out; fear of those with mental illness. Twenty-seven per cent of the population are fearful of being around people who suffer from serious mental illness. It just isn't cool to have a mental illness. You don't see the famous or the infamous proudly wearing a bracelet identifying them with the needs of the mentally ill.
The events in Newtown sparked a lot of discussion on gun control and the media's representation of children following violent events. However, as is the case with most well-covered human tragedies, mental health discourse was decidedly missing from the reporting. "Evil visited this community today," the Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy said following the shooting. Such words are not uncommon following acts of violence, but their prominence still made me cringe. I have to ask, whose "evil" are we talking about when we classify this tragedy as such?
World AIDS Day is Saturday. How will you remember and commemorate? Last year alone, 1.7 million people worldwide died as a result of AIDS-related causes. Their deaths must not be in vain. In their memory let us take a more proactive stance in observing this special day this year. End HIV stigma now is a good message. But how? Complacency about AIDS is a major problem and education is still our only vaccine. But sometimes, somewhat surprisingly, even the educated need educating.
Thursday, September 13, 2012 marks the 4th Annual Hats On For Awareness gala! The event started in 2008 by my good friend Enza Cecchia and her partner in this crusade, Benny Caringi. Like all previous events, this is a night to bring attention to those suffering in the shadows of mental illness and addiction. I was lucky enough to interview Enza & Benny who shared some pretty jaw-dropping facts about mental illness.
Recent statistics show that at least one in five of us will have some sort of mental illness over the course of our lifetime. My hope is that there can come a point when it won't matter that you live with mental illness. But until then the best way to reduce stigma is to talk and educate yourself. The more often we have a discussion, the more we learn.
Prejudices against the overweight seem to develop early. One study found that children as young as three years of age believed fat people were "mean, stupid, ugly, and had few friends." People suffering from emotional distress in connection with weight problems are much less likely to succeed in their efforts to improve their health. For our society in general, a shift in attitude would help.