The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Special Report: Mental Health

May 27, 2012

Suffering in Silence, Part 2: Denial, wishful thinking fuel stigma

ST PETER —

Stigma can be described as a bloodless abstraction, a thing pondered intellectually rather than felt as rejection in the pit of your gut.

Julie Jones knows different. She can dread meeting people. Even small talk isn’t safe.

Where do you work?”

Explaining that you receive government assistance is not exactly a great conversation starter.

And it doesn’t help that Jones looks and dresses normally. It can be hard for people to accept that she is unable to work.

I didn’t plan to live my life this way,” the North Mankato woman said.

Mental illness can range from mild to crippling, and it’s those people in the middle who often have the worst time of it, said Kirsten Berg of rural New Ulm.

There are individuals like me who have an illness, and no one would know.”

And those who need a friendly shoulder the most often get it the least.

At the hospital, no one visits. It’s all hush; we don’t talk about it,” said Julie Soper, head of the Mankato chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

She figures they’re thinking, “If someone finds out it’s in my family, people will think I’m nuts.”

Another perspective is that the stigma is essentially a result of denial, and of wishful thinking.

It’s like a superstition,” Irvin Schaefer of St. Peter said. “People want to think it can’t happen to them.”

This slight regard for mental illness betrays itself at a societal level, as people decide what sufferers are due and what accommodations should be made for them.

An ‘extra’

Dr. Michael Farnsworth, a Blue Earth County psychiatrist, said the county’s reimbursement from medical assistance doesn’t even meet their overhead costs.

So that’s a lack of parity,” he said. Mental health is often seen as an extra, and can be the first to get cut in times like this.

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Special Report: Mental Health