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Mental Health Awareness

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Removing the stigma of mental illness

Did you know that while most mental health conditions are treatable, just 40 percent of those struggling with these issues seek professional help, largely due to the stigma—or negative feelings, attitudes and stereotypes—associated with mental illness? That means they’re not only struggling with the symptoms and disabilities of these diseases, but also dealing with the stereotypes and prejudice that are a result of the misconceptions about mental illness, causing isolation, discrimination, shame and embarrassment.

“Research shows that stigma surrounding mental illness prevents people from seeking help, restricts resources from being allocated and discourages others from lending support,” says Max Donatelli, Chairman & Family Advocate for the Erie County Anti-stigma Coalition. “One of the best ways to stop the stigma is to better educate people about mental illness. By doing so, we increase awareness, understanding and acceptance for those living with the challenges of mental illness.”

Here are some of the most common myths and stigmas surrounding mental illness.

Myth: Mentally ill people are violent.
Less than five percent of violent acts are attributed to those with mental illness.

Myth: If you’re mentally ill, you belong in a mental hospital.
While hospitalization is recommended for some, the majority of those with mental illness—two thirds—lead productive lives in their community.

Myth: Mental illnesses do not affect children or youth—their problems are just “growing pains.”
Twenty percent of youth ages 13-18 live with a mental health condition. Seventy percent of adult mental illness, such as depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive or eating disorders, begins during childhood or adolescence. The good news? Close to 80 percent of youth who receive treatment see significant improvement.

Myth: People with mental illness lack intelligence.
Intelligence has little to do with mental illness or brain disorders. Many people with mental
disorders are brilliant, productive and creative (think: Mathematician John Nash and the movie, “A Beautiful Mind”). But some who suffer with certain mental illnesses may struggle with memory issues and find it difficult to get along with others, so it seems as though they are cognitively challenged.

Myth: If you’re mentally ill, you belong in a mental hospital.
Depression has nothing to do with being lazy or weak. It is an illness that involves the body, mood and thoughts, and it affects the way people eat, sleep, feel about themselves and think about things. Depression is the most common illness worldwide and the leading cause of disability.

Donatelli says the Anti-stigma Coalition is working hard to change the public’s perception of mental illness with its campaign, Join The Conversation. “We are working with other local organizations and using all avenues—TV, radio, print and social media—to get the message out, create a dialog and end the stigma, he says. “We are definitely making an impact on people’s attitudes and getting the word out that there is hope and there is help.”

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