Does Coming Out About Mental Illness Reduce Stigma?

PRO: What most mental health advocates usually say.

This was taken from a local NAMI person in an email on a listserv:

Surely those who encourage and care about you change lives best, whether they are a peer or not. Some people are indeed lucky to have caring and talented professionals and other recovery helpers. I think this happens much more than we realize.

The reason I say that is stigma is still so pervasive. I believe we meet folks every day who are closet consumers. In my work and private life, I’ve met countless individuals who have a serious, potentially disabling issue, found a good professional, and were lucky enough to have supportive family, spouse, friends , etc.

They were lucky enough to have a biology that gave them a good outcoime from medical treatment,  and they are successful at applying good, preventive self care.

I pray for the day when these lucky and successful folks will “out” themselves, coming out voluntarily  like Jane Pauley, Kathryn Zeta Jones, and a few others, and take their place working alongside the rest of us trying to make things better.  When famous people start coming out, they send a message that mental illness can happen to anyone, and anyone can lead a productive life with  medication and good support.

Actress Patty Duke (right) thought coming out about her bipolar disorder  woulkd show it could happen to anyone, and be managed successfully with medication.  In her autobiography, she also came out about being sexually abused when she was a child star on TV and the stage.

Today, many people wonder which came first, the mood swings or the trauma of abuse?

Coming out says:  Mental illness is nobody’s fault, so there is no justification for stigma or blame, according to Patty Duke and other celebrities  who have gone public to help other sufferers, who are not rich and famous.

CON: Coming out from WHAT? With what?  The Diagnosis? 

Actress Patty Duke, sexually abused as a child, says her mood swings are a chemical brain disease.

Actress Patty Duke, sexually abused as a child, says her mood swings are a chemical brain disease.

Wellness Wordworks  thinks that, if emotional distress is not an illness, then there are all kinds of other solutions besides finding a good professional, taking medications, or finding a diagnosis that fits a problem that is mostly likely a life situational problem. If we look at the number of people who end up with mental health labels and remove those who ended up with the label due to a poor job fit, trauma, lack or exercise or nutrition, loss of goals, and dreams, grief, or spiritual emergencies, then no one at all might end up with mental health labels.

Much of mental health stigma comes from the idea that people with mental health diagnoses are “other” or different, and in fact, calling the mental health diagnosis a genetic or chemical problem, just makes this worse. Maybe the best way to reduce stigma is to talk about overcoming adversity or distress, which everybody must do sometimes, like Poetry for Personal Power does.

That promotes real social inclusion.

Ken Braiterman talks about his experience moving from being a NAMI chapter leader and a disease model advocate to one who think, “Coming out about having a mental illness separates people from the norm.  Adversity and emotional distress are normal.  It is not “a condition.” “

How about coming out about overcoming adversity? We all do this.



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