The Mental Health Commission of Canada is hosting a three-day conference that is ending today. The Commission believes it is the largest conference ever organized on mental illness stigma. (We apologize Psych Central couldn’t make this conference — but we’re there in spirit.)
Stigma and prejudice of mental illness is still a serious problem. It’s one of the few areas in health where people are regularly blamed for their illness, and the perception remains in some sections of society where it’s seen as a personal failing or weakness.
Because the mental health system is disconnected from the regular health care system in the U.S., it suffers a second stigmatization as well — as a second-class delivery system that is too often ignored by mainstream medicine and healthcare. While “Health 2.0” is all the rage in healthcare, few talk about Mental Health 2.0.
Put these two together and you have a recipe for misunderstanding, gross generalizations — even by medical doctors and family physicians who should know better — and marginalization. Mental health care is an afterthought on the stage of health care.
There are some very smart people who understand this problem better than I. This includes folks at The Carter Center’s Mental Health Program — specifically First Lady Rosalynn Carter, founder, and Dr. Thomas H. Bornemann, director, and their entire staff. They work tirelessly through policy leadership, coordination and funding of mental health journalism scholarships to try and help people better understand mental health issues.
And it includes some unlikely folks, like actress Glen Close.
Glen Close founded Bring Change 2 Mind with The Balanced Mind Foundation, Fountain House, and Garen & Shari Staglin of the International Mental Health Research Organization (IMHRO). The organization’s purpose is to help try and remove misconceptions about mental illness.
Glen Close got involved with this cause because her sister, Jessie, and her nephew, Calen Pick, both have a mental illness.
Joe Pantoliano also is engaged in the battle to try and help remove the stigma of mental illness and mental health. He won an Emmy for his role on The Sopranos, then suffered from clinical depression.
He began his own non-profit organization to combat stigma called No Kidding, Me Too that you should check out.
An effort I’m personally involved in is called iFred — the International Foundation for Research and Education for Depression. Founded by Kathryn Goetzke, it aims to re-brand depression to make it more socially acceptable and less stigmatizing. I think this is a great idea, because so much of the stigma surrounding mental illness is simply perception and prejudice colored by biased media coverage.
We love these concerted efforts of organizations such as these, as well as governmental organizations like the Mental Health Commission of Canada, to help reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness.
You can get involved directly with these efforts as well. Check out the links above for more information.