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The Cost of Not Caring | Stigma and Discrimination Hit Hard and Cold

Borderline Personality Disorder

Borderline personality disorder, major depressive disorder, anorexia, OCD, schizophrenia: legitimate neurological challenges, all. But you sure couldn’t tell by the way folks “in the midst” are considered and treated.

The USA Today posted an important article last week, written by Liz Szabo – “Cost of not caring: Stigma set in stone.” It’s a four chapter comprehensive detailing how the “mentally ill” suffer horribly from what I call Americanhealthsystemitis.

It’s powerful content and I’d like to summarize it, as it needs to be available on Chipur. I’ve provided a link at the end to the piece, so be sure to read – and circulate – it.

K, two quick point-outs before we roll. You’ll find terms such as “mental illness” and “mental health” in Szabo’s piece, so I’m going to stick with them here. Thing is, though, I don’t like them because they’re stigma-perpetuating labels. Notice my use of “neurological challenges” as we began. Um, just like Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and epilepsy. Also want you to know our featured image comes from the USA Today article.

Alrighty, then – let’s get busy (Oh, long article warning – couldn’t help myself)…

Stigma & Discrimination

If I have diabetes, there is no stigma to that. But if my brain doesn’t work, why am I supposed to be ashamed of that? It’s just another organ…I’m supposed to hide that. Pastor and author Rick Warren

Szabo hits hard and true from the get-go as she declares stigma against the mentally ill has be codified into federal law for 50 years. How so? The systemic discrimination embedded in Medicaid and Medicare laws, which has ramped-up the emptying of state psychiatric hospitals.

‘Course, 1,500 mental health centers were to be built to compensate. But, alas, fewer than half of them are bricks and mortar. So what’s picking-up the slack? E.R.s, jails, the streets – and cemeteries.

Let there be no doubt, we’re dealing with a “system” in shambles, resulting in the cruel neglect and destruction of millions of our sickest and most vulnerable country-mates.

Szabo shares the story of pastor and best-selling author Rick Warren’s chronically depressed son – Matthew. Pastor Warren tried desperately to secure the long-term care recommended for his son. Tragically, the quest was unsuccessful, and Matthew took his life last year at the age of 27.

Warren compares the stigma of mental illness to that of AIDS and HIV. And in his mind, it comes down to people being blamed for bringing suffering upon themselves. Warren…

If I have diabetes, there is no stigma to that. But if my brain doesn’t work, why am I supposed to be ashamed of that? It’s just another organ. People will readily admit to taking medicine for high blood pressure, but if I am taking medication for some kind of mental problem I’m having, I’m supposed to hide that.

Treatment Too Late, or Not At All

Another tragic manifestation of our current state of affairs is the inordinate amount of time it takes for so many to be diagnosed and receive treatment. Fact is, folks with a mental illness wait an average of 10 years to get treatment post-symptom-onset. And nearly 40% of adults with a serious mental illness received no treatment in the previous year.

News flash! 60% of adults with any mental illness go untreated.

Folks, that ain’t right! And any guesses as to why it occurs? That’s right, stigma and a lack of treatment alternatives and funding. I mean, come on – who wants to come forth as the “psycho-freak du jour,” much less having no place to go and no way to pay for it?

Workin’ Toward Better Days

Okay, so what are we going to do about this mess? Well, Szabo let’s us know there are advocates out and about working for change by chipping away at discriminatory policies.

Pennsylvania Congressman Tim Murphy has sponsored the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act. Boiled-down, the legislation would allow states to receive Medicaid matching payments for adult psychiatric hospitalizations. And there’s Arizona Congressman Ron Barber who’s introduced legislation to eliminate Medicare’s 190-day lifetime limit on psychiatric hospital care.

Now, as hopeful as this is, let’s not get silly. Fact is, such legislation faces an uphill battle, as Congress remains divided (really?) and preps are being made for mid-term elections. God forbid we interfere with that!

As she wraps-up her piece, Szabo names names – those “in the midst” who’ve nobly stepped forward to further the anti-stigma/discrimination cause.

She tells us about Canadian counselor, comedian, and author David Granirer, who has long suffered from depression. Guess what? His program – Stand Up for Mental Health – teaches those enduring emotional/mental woes how to turn their circumstances into comedy – and perform at assorted venues. Ya’ gotta’ check-out the website. Oh, and our featured image? It’s Jessica Dawson, who’s been diagnosed with schizophrenia. She’s a Stand Up for Mental Health participant.

People, Granirer and others (maybe you?) are making a difference. Research suggests we’ve made a smidge of progress in fighting stigma. Seems more Americans are willing to consider mental illness to be a biological condition, rather than a moral failing.

Still, we’ve grown less willing to befriend or work with someone with schizophrenia, and more inclined to see people with the disease as violent and dangerous. Seems the fallout of the shootings at Virginia Tech, Newtown, Santa Barbara, etc. is sadly profound.

Let’s Close

Well, listen, I could go on and on (ya’ think?). But now that you have a taste of the USA Today feature, please take the time to read it and pass the word.

PTSD, borderline personality disorder, major depressive disorder, anorexia, ADHD, schizoaffective disorder, bipolar spectrum issues. The only way they’re going to be accepted as legit neurological challenges is if we relentlessly spread the good word – the truth.

Come on, are you willing to do your part?

You know, so much of fighting stigma and discrimination is grounded in education. I’m thinking you can pick-up buckets of info from 600+ Chipur articles.

  • Guest

    My God, Bill, these kind of stories really mess with my typical glass-half-full outlook on life. But there really is gloom and doom out there–you present the case really well (as usual!). What will it take, do you suppose, for the DC yahoos to realize there’s more to life than their blessed mid-term elections? When will they realize that people are dying, many of them an agonizingly slow death? All of this really makes my heart hurt, but, I simply refuse to believe that solutions don’t exist. I’m going to check out the USA Today article.

    Thanks for being the rock star whistleblower that you are!

    • Well, Beth, all is not lost. Maybe we can say we’re experiencing growing pains. Thing is, the mess is coming to the fore, and it’s gonna take some maneuvering to get things sorted out. But it’s up to us to keep the pressure on and hold folks accountable. Bam! Take heart, kid. Always appreciate your visits and participation…

      Bill

  • I read this article last week, as well, Bill, and THANK YOU for boiling it down to its key points – something you do so SO WELL!! It helps to get these key messages right off as they are critically important for all of us to better understand so we take action! As Guest wrote, “Thanks for being the rock start whistleblower that you are!”

    • Hey, Lisa! Ah, the little whistleblower here. Well, it’s such a great piece – and we have to keep the momentum crankin’. You’re such a great advocate, Lisa. I know you’re doing your part. Thank you for visiting and contributing…

      Bill

  • Regarding Americans’ perception that someone with schizophrenia is violent or dangerous: I frequently work with folks diagnosed with the challenge, and I can tell you it isn’t an issue.

  • I appreciate your explanation, Bill. It is important for everyone to clearly understand the problem, so that we are aware of the issues and can spread the word, so thank you. We are all impacted in one way or another from this situation. It does boggle the mind on why this cannot be front and center, so that people can get the help that they need. I’m glad to hear that “Seems more Americans are willing to consider mental illness to be a biological condition, rather than a moral failing.” That feels hopeful.

    • Does feel hopeful, doesn’t it, Cathy? But we have to continue to push, and push hard. Same applies in your arena. I mean, we’re all fighting for acceptance and deserved consideration and treatment. I’m thinking so many have had enough and change may actually be on the horizon. Always appreciate your visits and participation…

      Bill

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