ON MENTAL ILLNESS: CNN's Doctor Drew Reports on Stigma

By Jack Bragen
Friday March 08, 2013 - 11:04:00 AM

Doctor Drew Pinsky is a television psychiatrist who frequently appears on CNN. His coverage and that of CNN are groundbreaking in their treatment of persons with mental illness and the venomous effects of stigma. Drew believes stigma is a cause of death for many persons who suffer from a mental illness. Stigma, according to Drew, prevents people from seeking treatment because of the fear of being ostracized. Stigma forces many mentally ill people to remain "in the closet" concerning their condition. 

Failure to get treatment (including when due to the fear of the social repercussions) can cause death. This is because, without treatment, a mental illness will inevitably run its course, and this can bring a person to a point of suicidality. 

CNN's and Drew's coverage of mental illness have improved since the last time that I wrote about Doctor Drew. He believes that society should have the same attitude concerning illnesses "above the neck" as they do concerning "illnesses below the neck." This means that mental illnesses, including drug addiction, schizophrenia, bipolar illness, and depression, are all medical diseases, just like cancer and heart disease. People incorrectly believe that these illnesses are a sign of weakness and a source of shame. 

He encourages people to deal with issues rather than masking feelings with improperly used prescription drugs. Yet he advocates getting major mental illnesses treated through antidepressant or antipsychotic medication. Benzodiazepines, for example, have a legitimate use-for treating panic disorders. However, these same medications should not be used for the normal stresses that everyone needs to deal with. 

Pinsky has been on several different TV shows concerning mental health and addiction, across the television channels. This includes "celebrity rehab" and other "reality" shows. He frequently appears on "Anderson Cooper 360." 

I believe CNN and Doctor Drew Pinsky would do well to take an additional step, which would be to illustrate the parallel between stigma toward persons with mental illness, and racism, which in the past had divided our country. Stigma toward persons with mental illness and racism are essentially the same thing--hate toward someone who is somehow different. 

In my personal experience, it has been hard to function in society when I am excluded by individuals and institutions, due to my status of being mentally ill. This information, while it is not supposed to show up on an employer background check, is readily available to people seeking information. I know of someone who tried to get hired as a nurse, but was refused the job at a point when the background check was done. I know of an airline mechanic, starting treatment for bipolar, who committed suicide, apparently because he could no longer work at his job. 

The information that says a person has a mental illness, if it gets out, can spell ruin for a person-because people in society have ignorant attitudes and will discriminate. 

Even before the internet, people had to deal with the poisonous effects of gossip. People spitefully spread bad information about people by word of mouth, and this causes the hurtful exclusion of many good people, who don't deserve this treatment. 

The attitudes of the general public are still intolerant, as they once were with racism. This intolerance also shows itself when you read people's comments that are posted after news pieces that involve mental illness. 

People haven't yet woken up to the fact that we are not "crazies," we are people who suffer from an illness. 

Prejudice against persons with mental illness is still socially acceptable, unlike racism. Overt racism, in most places, is no longer socially acceptable. The same peer pressure ought to exist concerning hate of persons with mental illness. 

Thank you, Doctor Drew, for hosting this discussion.