Efforts to be taken to end the stigma associated with mental illness

Amber Kakkar, Staff Writer

Mental health issues are more prevalent than we may think.  Approximately one in every five adults, or 18.5 percent, in the U.S. are affected.  That is one in every family, and four to five in the average classroom size.  Unfortunately, there is a stigma attached to mental illness, one that should not exist.

Stigma is defined as a mark of disgrace in regards to a particular circumstance, quality, or person.  In the 16th century, bipolar disorder was not seen as a medical issue. Rather, it was viewed as a demonic possession, a form of exorcism, and the victim was therefore persecuted by religious sects.  Death was viewed as the only way to “free their souls.”  In the 17th century, society had moved onto involuntarily locking the victim in an insane asylum.  Today, in the 21st century, the seriousness and causes of these health issues are understood and, as a result, help is possible.  Stigma today is not attached like it was hundreds of years ago; however, it is still present.

Many people believe that schools should not interfere with mental health issues.  However, students spend the majority of their time at school: seven hours a day, ten months a year, from preschool to maybe even graduate school.  Schools therefore have the responsibility to take initiative in helping with mental health issues pertaining to students.

Schreiber has a mental health team made up of two psychologists, Dr. Eric Clauss and Dr. Joan Bester, and two social workers, Mrs. Adriana Najera-Pollak and Mr. Jose Mejia.  There are two types of services: referral and immediate triage.  In referral, the students go through the “big, formal process,” whereas triage is used to stabilize the situation.

  Schreiber High School offers mental health services to students in a variety of ways. They meet with students on an ongoing basis for counseling, but they are also always available to meet with students in moments of crisis,” said Assistant Principal Dr. Julie Torres.  “For students who present with complex situations or who are diagnosed with a mental illness, the school’s mental health team partners with students, their families, and outside treating professionals to provide the highest levels of support.”

The mental health team also speaks with outside sources to find the most efficient and effective ways to help the student through school.

We offer counseling to students who are struggling with anxiety, depression, or learning problems. We also speak with outside mental health care providers who are working with students so we can get information on how to help those students in school,” said Dr. Bester.

The thing that is invisible to the outside eye is the difficulty of these students to get through the school day.  Having a mental illness does not make you weak or strange; it makes you strong and resilient.  Being productive while something in your head is telling you not to be is extraordinarily hard, and those who do not know what this feels like need to acknowledge this reality.

“It is the worst, it is difficult.  It is as though there is a switch that allows me to be productive and that switch is always turned off,” said an anonymous freshman with OCD.  “My backpack is always so heavy not because I have so much homework, it is because I have to make up a lot of assignments that are already overdue but my illness prevents me from completing them.  I don’t think anyone realizes how it feels to have an urge that you just have to do something a certain number of times.  It’s just something you have to do.”

So how can we, as students, help one another?  Talk to each other, become knowledgeable, don’t be afraid!  It takes time to cope, time to understand, but knowledge is power.  In all honesty, everyone has some form of mental health issue, no one is “normal.” We are all just human.

“Sadly these diseases break at a time when young people are just beginning their lives.  When someone gets heart disease or cancer, friends and family rally to help.  With serious mental illness, however, friends all too often leave just when you need them the most.  It’s heartbreaking.  The stigma of brain diseases remains a block to young people getting care and support.  Imagine living with a serious illness and being forced to live on $800 a month.  America has to do better. We can all do better,” said Mrs. Linda Manzo, head of the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI) at Weber.

Approximately 43.8 million people are affected by mental illness in the U.S. alone.  The remaining 81.5 percent should understand the seriousness, comprehend the illness, and become knowledgeable.  The entire 100 percent should work together to defeat the stigma and learn how it is an illness that we are getting a better understanding of and sources of treatment available today are expanding.  We all have a responsibility to understand and support our friends and family suffering with a mental illness.  Together, we can stop the stigma.