Monday, May 10, 2010

Talking about Mental Health

By R. Scott Benson, M.D.

In May a few years ago I was asked to give a talk to the seniors who exercised at the mall in the early morning hours. The timing was right for a mental health talk, since May is Mental Health Month.

The focus of my talk was new understanding of the brain and changing thoughts on the cause and treatment of mental illness. The audience was attentive but asked few questions. But after the talk an elderly man approached to clarify some comments I had made about schizophrenia. He called his wife over and they shared the painful story of their adult son’s deterioration as he developed unmistakable signs of this tragic disease.

This couple had been told by the treatment team that their parenting had caused their son’s condition and they needed to leave him alone so that he could recover. And they had carried a burden of guilt for years, viewing themselves as somehow toxic. I was able to answer a few of their questions and then I was encouraged them to join other families involved with our local chapters of Mental Health America and the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

The positive impact of these brave families sharing their stories was reinforced in a new survey from the American Psychiatric Association. And the results of this survey are a cause for celebration telling us how far we have come. More than a third said that stigma has declined, and openness about personal experiences by friends, family and public figures was influential.

The internet has become a valued source of information and was cited by 75% of those surveyed as at least moderately influential in reducing stigma associated with mental illness.

In addition to HealthyMinds, what are the reliable sources of information that have been useful to you? Where have you heard patient and family stories that have reduced stigma in your community?

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