While it may seem easy for me to say something like “we should not stigmatize the mentally ill for the mental illnesses that they have”, because in reality, the mentally ill have no more control over their illness than someone with a neuropathy, or cancer. David, for example, didn’t ask to have mental illnesses. He didn’t ask to be born addicted to drugs. He was born this way.
Now, it should be clear, it is important to note that we should not make excuses for behaviors. Though behaviors are often a manifestation of the underlying condition, the behaviors can not be excused. Accountability can be held for those who are mentally ill and the behaviors that they exhibit. To move forward in care, we need to embrace the diagnosis. We need to ensure that we are not scapegoating these people. They should not be hidden away from society. We need to employ the least restrictive environment possible to successfully treat the condition and the patient. We can’t treat the condition without treating the patient, and we can’t treat the patient without treating the condition. That much should be patently obvious.
The question that becomes or moves toward “How can we erase the stigma?”
A secret. Something that many have learned from caring for the mentally ill patient, “unlike the common cold or flu, you can’t catch a mental illness.”
Last summer and early fall, allegations were made that I was exploiting David and his conditions. We should embrace the mentally ill and their ilk. Through that embrace, provide appropriate and timely care both for the mentally ill person and their families. Because, families are affected by mental illness even if they don’t have a mental illness themselves. This population deserves nothing less than the best possible care that can be found and provided. Is it expensive? Darn right it is, but I would say that it is more expensive, in the long run, to do nothing.
In fact, it is the belief of many that every single one of us in the world knows at least one person with a mental illness of some kind.
How can we erase the stigma?
- We can provide meaningful and appropriate care.
- We can provide community based services as appropriate. This falls under “least restrictive environment.”
- We can allow facility based care as appropriate, where facility based care is the “least restrictive environment.”
- We can realize that there is always a chance that any one of us could develop a mental health issue at any point in our lives.
The key to all things in any level or field of care, be it cancer, tuberculosis, Multiple Sclerosis, Lupus, or mental illness is providing the services or care required when they are required. Typically if someone is suffering from mental illness, they need treatment/care now, rather than later.
After all. if our loved one had a cancer diagnosis, rather than a mental illness diagnosis, we would scream from the roof tops about the injustice of it, and demand the best care from the best doctors possible. We would ask for help from anyone we could find. Why do we not do the same for the mentally ill? We advocate for research and help for cancer, lupus, MS, and many other conditions. Why can’t we advocate for help for the mentally ill? Why should we accept or expect anything less for the mentally ill?
I know people who have developed cancer who have never smoked a cigarette in their life, yet are dying from lung cancer. I also know people who have mental illness. Don’t they deserve the same level of care, albeit, for the mentally ill, care looks different from the care a cancer patient receives.
Can we erase the stigma? Can we stop treating the mentally ill like a derelict population that is no better than the mud we scraped from our shoe?
The answer is simple.
Bob the Builder said it best. “Yes we can!”