You have probably heard the statistic that mental illness affects one in five adults in the U.S. Most people who are affected by mental illness are in hiding about it for fear of public shame and because a disclosure about it could cause them to lose their jobs.
National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, also known as NAMI, is an organization of the family members of persons with mental illness. At one time, the slogan of NAMI was; “Open your mind—mental illnesses are brain disorders.”
When someone is sick with cancer, family, friends and co-workers are usually supportive and will rally to that person’s aid. People who suffer from cancer and other illnesses are sometimes described as heroic. Obituaries will say something like: “Jon Doe passed away with family by his side, after a long and brave battle with cancer.”
However, mental illness is often treated as a dishonorable and shameful thing. People will never put, “a period of mental illness” in the “reason for leaving” box on a job application. Such a statement would guarantee never getting a call from a prospective employer.
Having a bipolar aunt is often treated as a family secret. Up until recently, the presence of a mental illness in a family was often a subject of non-discussion. When a son has depression and can’t work, the father might say; “Why can’t you just get over it and get a job?” Or he might even say; “Just snap out of it.”
In a family, a mental illness is often not recognized as an adequate reason for not having a job. People in such a family who are successful will often have an attitude of superiority. They don’t seem to realize that the mentally disabled sibling or offspring must overcome a real and actual disability that they didn’t have to deal with in their quest to succeed.
According to the medical establishment in the U.S. (an entity that people don’t ordinarily question) mental illnesses are physical diseases, just like cancer, diabetes, and pneumonia, only affecting that organ between our ears, and generally not causing death. (In the case of suicides, the mental illness did cause the person’s death.)
Then, why the double standard? The cancer patient is “brave” while the psychiatric patient is “shamed.”
This is the flagship of a new column in The Planet. One of its primary purposes is to promote a no-shame, no-blame public perception of people with mental illness. This column isn’t written by a doctor, caregiver, or “expert,” on mental illness, but instead by a man who has suffered from Schizophrenia, Paranoid-type, since 1982.
I invite people with mental illness, their family members, and caregivers to write in with your stories. Your name and identifying information will not be published.
I am not a physician and I can not dispense medical advice in this column or outside of it. I can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.