Why Mental Illness Stigma is Lethal
The first time suicide impacted me directly was when a friend of mine took his life. As a kid, he always cracked jokes and pulled pranks, and I got to watch him grow into a wonderful, dedicated man. I can still remember standing at work, wearing my green suit, when I heard the news. I was shaken for days. I wasn’t able to go to the funeral, but I wish I had. No one can ever fill the special place he had in my life.
Many years later, I learned more details related to his death. He had recently gone through a divorce, and his sister had told his parents to get him help. His parents didn’t heed her words. Likely, stigma prevented them from acknowledging the issue. I think about him often. And about his parents who are now burdened with the unfathomable weight of regret.
Mental illness—the topic no one wants to talk about. However, the silence is actually lethal. Here are the facts:
- The suicide rate jumped 24% from 1999 to 2014, according to an April 2016 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- Suicide is increasing against the backdrop of generally declining mortality, and is currently one of the leading causes of death overall and within each age group. “It is a leading cause of death and we just don’t have a handle on it,” says Matthew K. Nock, a psychology professor at Harvard and one of the country’s leading suicide researchers.
- The nation’s suicide rate is the highest it’s been in 30 years.
- Twenty-two veterans and one service member take their lives each day.
- “According to the CDC, each year more than 41,000 individuals take their own life. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death among adults in the U.S. and the 3rd leading cause of death among people aged 10-24.”
I have consulted with far too many teens who believe they have a mental health condition, but are afraid to get help. When they confide in me, they often tell me: “My parents don’t believe in mental illness.” Let me say that again: “My parents don’t believe in mental illness.”
Allow me to clear up any confusion: It is real. And it carries very real consequences if we do not recognize it. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among people 25-34 years of age. It is the third leading cause of death for people 15-24 years old. That is far too significant a number for us to ignore.
Due to medical advancements and an increase in societal awareness, these younger generations are just now starting conversations to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health. But before we judge our elders too harshly, we need to understand that not talking about mental illness was the cultural norm. In previous generations, doctors did not have good solutions for those who lived with a mental health condition. I had a great grandmother who had a psychotic break, but they kept her at home, and she never sought treatment.
Decades ago, cancer was a topic that was avoided too—lack of knowledge and understanding, along with an unwillingness to confront the issue prevented people from opening up. Thanks to foundations like LiveStrong, global efforts are underway to spread information to end the stigma. As a result, we now speak more openly about cancer. It’s time for society to follow suit with respect to mental health. Together, we can challenge the stigma—we can fight back.
It’s time to end the silence: our societal ignorance and fear is killing future generations. Nothing can bring back my dear friend. But I am determined not to lose another. I know what it feels like to believe you have no other option, but I am living proof that there is always another option. Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. The best thing you can do for yourself and your family is to get educated.
** A variation of this blog was first published on the Challenge the Storm website.
Danei Edelen is married, lives with her husband and son in Cincinnati, Ohio. Danei owns Instant Marketing LLC. Danei has a bachelor's degree and over 20 years in marketing. She is also a NAMI presenter for the Southwestern Ohio chapter speaking to groups of all ages to help end the stigma. Danei enjoys reading, writing, exercising, and learning about nutrition. She is also a blogger for the Challenge the Storm , the Mighty, and National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). This article was published on Challenge the Storm.