Mental illness experts hope to end stigmas

By Marc Thomas

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Many students struggle with varying degrees of mental illness, and the National Alliance on Mental Illness is visiting UK to help.

The Certified Nonprofit Professional Student Association, in partnership with Kentucky’s NAMI division, will host “Healthy You: Breaking the Silence on Mental Health in America” 5 p.m. Wednesday at Presentation U! in the W.T. Young Library.

The event aims to help end the silence surrounding the discussion of mental health in the U.S.

Dr. David Susman, director of the Jesse G. Harris, Jr. Psychological Services Center, and Julie Neace, NAMI’s volunteer coordinator, will talk about mental illness on campus and how social stigma may affect its treatment.

“I think educating students about mental health is an important use of community resources,” third year law student Tom Wall said. “No one should have to deal with that alone.”

Negativity is often associated with people who battle day-to-day with mental illness. In turn, these people fall victim to preconceived ideas that mental illness somehow equals mental instability.

According to Susman, the media may be one of the reasons why mental illness has such a negative reputation.

“Unfortunately, the media are quick to point out every time a mass shooting is done by someone with a history of mental illness,” said Susman, who also said the silence about mental health in America exists in different ways. “What they don’t often say is how people with mental illness are not more disposed to violent behavior.”

Some people believe that not discussing the problem may be the best course of action to deal with their own mental illness. Some people could feel embarrassed or fearful of talking  to their family and friends. Either way, these methods place a Band-Aid over the real problems that cannot be healed without proper treatment.

Although it can affect most people, the stigma associated with mental illness is a determining factor in a person hiding it from the people closest to them.

“Everyone’s story is unique, so you have some folks that are afraid to talk to their family members and others who are not,” Neace said.

NAMI suggests mental health can be treated through therapy and medication. Since each person is different, treatments will vary person to person.

“The treatment is unique to the individual and the symptoms they present,” Neace said. “Not every treatment is going to work for everyone. It is up to the individual to decide what treatment they wish to try.”

Mental health issues are common in the U.S., with most diagnoses being behavioral, mental or emotional disorders.

“One in four adults will be affected by a mental health concern sometime during their life,” Susman said. “But just because they’re very common, mental health issues are often ‘hidden’ because things like depression or anxiety aren’t always noticeable to others.”

Neace said mental illness does not discriminate, and anyone can be diagnosed with a mental illness at any age. The onset for some mental illnesses, including schizophrenia, are most common between 16 to 30 years of age, but people can be diagnosed with them at any age.

CNPSA’s ultimate goal for “Healthy You: Breaking the Silence on Mental Health in America” is to educate people about mental illness.

“Often the first step toward making meaningful changes in attitudes and behaviors is to raise awareness through education,” said Susman, who also said it is important for the college demographic to be conscious of mental health. “College is a stressful time … it’s very common to see significant rates of stress, depression, anxiety and substance abuse among the college student population.”