Guest Viewpoint: It’s time to remove the stigma from mental illness

“She’s a nut job!”

“He’s bipolar.”

These are just some of the labels and stigmatizing terms used to describe people with mental illness. But “she” may be your Sunday school teacher. “He” may be your pastor or deacon. The truth, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, is that in America, approximately one in five adults, and one in five young people ages 13-18, have some form of mental illness.

NAMI observes Oct. 2-8 as National Mental Illness Awareness Week. This year’s theme is “Stigma Free.” A stigma, according to Webster’s Dictionary, is “a mark of disgrace, or a stain on one’s reputation.” Many times, people with mental illness and their family members bear the stigma in silence, because the general public sees only the disease rather than seeing a person with a disease.

Mental illness affects people regardless of age, gender, race, ethnicity, religion or economic status, and it is treatable. Good mental health is critical to the well-being and vitality of our families, businesses and communities. As with any illness, support of family, friends and community are integral to recovery.

Once we remove the labels, we begin to see real people who struggle with real illnesses. Removing the stigma of mental illness is one step toward helping patients and their support network develop the necessary resiliency that enables recovery. The person experiencing mental health symptoms can have hope and believe in their ability to experience life change if they can see their symptoms as treatable, transitory and recoverable. People can, and do, recover from mental illness.

The South Carolina Department of Mental Health exists to support the recovery of people with mental illness. With an emphasis on local care, SCDMH provides a full and flexible array of coordinated services in every community across the state. There are 17 mental health centers across the state with satellite offices that cover every county in South Carolina. Details can be found at www.scdmh.org.

Other organizations within the state with national ties are: National Alliance on Mental Illness (www.namisc.org) and Mental Health America (www.mha-sc.org). Resources for children and adolescents can be particularly difficult to find. The Federation of Families of South Carolina (www.fedfamsc.org) can assist families in need of services.

— Robert Woodyard is chaplain at Bryan Psychiatric Hospital in Columbia and attends South Main Street Baptist Church in Greenwood.