A Different Kind of Virus – Mental Health Month Takes Aim at the Problem of Stigma

Each year, millions of Americans face the reality of living with a mental illness. During May, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and the rest of the country are raising awareness of mental health by fighting stigma, providing support, educating the public, and advocating for policies that support people with mental illness and their families.
In 2018, NAMI is promoting the theme of “Cure Stigma” through its awareness events, including Mental Health Month.
Stigma is toxic to mental health because it creates an environment of shame, fear, and silence that prevents many people from seeking help and treatment.
“There’s a virus spreading across America,” the campaign manifesto reads. “It harms the one in five Americans affected by mental-health conditions. It shames them into silence. It prevents them from seeking help. And, in some cases, it takes lives. What virus are we talking about? It’s stigma. Stigma against people with mental-health conditions. But there’s good news. Stigma is 100{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} curable. Compassion, empathy, and understanding are the antidote. Your voice can spread the cure.”
Some 43.8 million adults in the U.S. experience mental illness in a given year, while approximately 9.8 million experience a serious mental illness in a given year that substantially interferes with or limits one or more major life activities. In addition, more than 21{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} of youth between the ages of 13 and 18 experience a severe mental disorder at some point during their life. For children aged 8 to 15, the estimate is 13{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5}.
Specifically, 1.1{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} of adults in the U.S. live with schizophrenia, 2.6{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} live with bipolar disorder, 6.9{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} had at least one major depressive episode in the past year, and 18.1{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} experienced an anxiety disorder such as post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or a specific phobia. Among the 20.2 million adults in the U.S. who experienced a substance-use disorder, 50.5{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} had a co-occurring mental illness.
The societal costs are significant. An estimated 26{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} of homeless adults staying in shelters live with serious mental illness, and 46{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} live with severe mental illness and/or substance use disorders. Approximately 20{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} of state prisoners and 21{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} of local jail prisoners have a recent history of a mental-health condition. And 70{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} of youth in juvenile justice systems have at least one mental health condition, while at least 20{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} live with a serious mental illness.
Meanwhile, serious mental illness costs America $193.2 billion in lost earnings per year. Mood disorders, including major depression, dysthymic disorder, and bipolar disorder, are the third most common cause of hospitalization in the U.S. for both youth and adults ages 18 to 44.
Individuals living with serious mental illness face an increased risk of having chronic medical conditions. Adults in the U.S. living with serious mental illness die on average 25 years earlier than others, largely due to treatable medical conditions.
At the same time, only 41{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} of adults in the U.S. with a mental-health condition received mental-health services in the past year, while just over half (50.6{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5}) of children aged 8-15 received mental-health services in the previous year. Mental Health Month is part of a campaign to shift those trends, end the stigma, and get people the help they need.