Even with our medical knowledge of the neurobiologic causes of mental illness, prejudice and discrimination against people with mental illness is not decreasing (according to a study published by Indiana University and Columbia University).
The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that there are 450 million people worldwide who suffer with mental illness but fewer than half receive care (caused by limited resources and stigma). While the WHO is taking action, by assisting governments with better access to healthcare and training healthcare workers to recognize the signs of mental illness, the WHO cannot fight stigma alone.
Many people with mental health concerns hide their illness or decide not to seek help because of what others “think.” They are often plagued with shame and agonize over with whom to share (family, friends, colleagues) their diagnosis. Worst of all (in my opinion), people with mental illness often “self-stigmatize” (internalize the public’s perception) and limit the amount of success they think they can attain or deserve.
Could you imagine how different our lives and nations would be if society knew that Abraham Lincoln or Winston Churchill had a mental illness? Or worse, if these two men held themselves back because they felt they didn’t deserve to succeed?
Mental illness is no different than any other illness, but because it manifests in the characteristics that make us human, it is more difficult to understand and often feared. In some cultures, superstition also contributes to how people are treated or viewed among a productive society.
So what is the tie-in with why I picked this blog topic and Fast4wD Ogilvy? Fast4wD has been at the center of global communications for clinical research for the past 10 years. While our therapeutic area of expertise is broad, the majority of our business has fallen under CNS. In addition, since 2003, my career has coincidentally focused on mental health research. I say coincidental because several of my immediate family members and very close friends have struggled with these concerns. I’ve learned a lot through my personal and professional experiences, but the most heartbreaking learning I’ve had is that a double standard exists. From a scientific and medical professional perspective, the “support” is there (just look at the list below of common or well known disorders currently open on ClinicalTrials.gov), but the dialogue behind the scenes isn’t always very nice or compassionate when it affects the immediate business.
ClincalTrials.gov lists the following open clinical trials:
- 2005 depression trials
- 1505 anxiety disorder trials
- 594 schizophrenia trials
- 475 ADD and ADHD trials
- 472 eating disorder trials
- 351 post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) trials
- 296 bipolar trials
- 158 trials listed collectively for obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), panic disorder and Tourette’s syndrome
As the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) says, “Stigma erodes confidence that mental disorders are real, treatable health conditions. We have allowed stigma and a now unwarranted sense of hopelessness to erect attitudinal, structural and financial barriers to effective treatment and recovery. It is time to take these barriers down.”
We can start by looking for ways to help make a change.
- Be compassionate and be careful of what you say:
- “Did you take your meds today?”
- “Just snap out of it!”
- Participate in a nonprofit like NAMI at some level:
- Volunteering your time
- Join fundraisers (walks, runs, etc.)
My challenge to you is to add to my list above of how we can help make a change. I want to hear from you.
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