What do you think of when you hear “mental illness”?

Last week I visited my fellow Astraea Press author Krysten Lindsay Hager’s blog and talked about the stigma associated with mental illness. That stigma has had a personal impact on me (read more about it in this post), but it’s also made me think a lot.

What do most people think of when they hear the words mental illness?

Stand up to stigma. Let's talk about mental health.I think of my father and several other people I love. I think of the guy I used to see on the street who always wore a bathrobe and talked to himself. I think of psych wards, medication, and counseling. I think of psychiatric service dogs, case managers, and disability. I think of those who battle through the mental illness in order to live as normal a life as possible.

I also think of the people who suffer in silence. Those who are afraid to seek help or think they are beyond help. Those who pretend everything is fine when they are clearly suffering. Those who think they’re fine and don’t need help when they exhibit many signs of being miserable and chronically depressed.

The things in the previous paragraph always make me want to cry. A lot of those things have to do with the stigma of mental illness, but some of it is the mental illness itself. I have known several mentally ill people who thought they were fine, didn’t need help, etc. So they stopped taking their medication, stopped getting regular therapy, and in the result was that they stopped being stable. Each of them suffered horribly because they thought there was nothing wrong with them, even though they had been diagnosed with one mental illness or another and were being treated for it. Once they returned to their prescribed treatment, they improved and could live a fairly normal life again.

As you can see, so many things come to mind when I think of mental illness, but that’s because I’ve been around it my entire life. When there’s mental illness in your family, you learn a LOT.

Did you know…

…anxiety disorders are the most common type of mental illness in the United States?

…depression is one of the most common and well-known mental illnesses?

…you’re more likely to be diagnosed with certain mental illnesses if a family member has been diagnosed with it?

…quite a few mentally ill people end up in jail or prison because of a lack of treatment?

…schizophrenia has its own stigma that makes it a diagnosis professionals are reluctant to give?

Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of. Neither is talking about it. It's time to talk.An estimated 43.7 million adults in the United States have some form of mental illness¹. That comes out at 18.6% of the adult population, yet mental illness still remains largely in the shadows. Compare that to autism, which an estimated 2% of the American children have², yet autism is regularly mentioned in mainstream media. Studies, organizations, and support groups abound for autism, as do blogs, magazines, and websites filled with information. Meanwhile 18.6% of the adult population is misunderstood, feels ignored, and suffers under a stigma that paradoxically lingers in an era when acceptance and awareness are major buzzwords.

So, in the name of awareness and acceptance, let’s talk. What comes to mind when you see or hear the words “mental illness”? Has your life ever been touched by mental illness?

Please share your thoughts in the comments section. If you want to contact me privately, you can do so here.

Note: All viewpoints are welcome, but keep your comments respectful and free of foul language. This is a family-friendly blog, and I’d like to keep it a safe place for open and honest discussion. Thanks!


1. National Institute of Mental Health. (n.d). Any mental illness (AMI) among adults. Retrieved February 21, 2015, from http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/prevalence/any-mental-illness-ami-among-adults.shtml

2. Blumberg, S. J., Bramlett, M. D., Kogan, M. D., Schieve, L. A., Jones, J. R., and Lu, M. C. (2013, March 20). Changes in prevalence of parent-reported autism spectrum disorder in school-aged U.S. children: 2007 to 2011-2012. National Health Statistics Reports (65). Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. Retrieved February 21, 2015, from http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nhsr/nhsr065.pdf


One thought on “What do you think of when you hear “mental illness”?

  1. My youngest brother has been institutionalized due to the diagnosis of schizophrenia for over 30 years now. I don’t see him ever being a part of the world of normalcy and being able to care for himself and that seems to be the concurring opinion of his caretakers. There were times when my parents made attempts to let him come home to stay but it never did work and it was more scary for them than helpful for him. Our parents are now passed and our brother remains in a mental hospital. It’s tremendously sad for me to see a man who had been so tremendously talented when he was younger to have been reduced to a state of near incoherence.

    I don’t know what to do about it and neither do my brothers and sisters. Mental illness is a big problem and I often wonder how much of the blame can be put on societal influences and a spiritual disconnect with those who are going through the illness. So many questions and maybe current treatments are mostly matters of convenience. I sure don’t know.

    I don’t agree with some of the current opinion that we should not use the term “mental illness’. What then? Changing the name doesn’t change the malady or the problems involved with it.

    I think it’s important to keep the rational discussion going. And I don’t think it’s a good idea to be closing down mental hospitals and putting many of these people on the streets or in prisons.

    Arlee Bird
    A to Z Challenge Co-host
    A Faraway View

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