The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Special Report: Mental Health

May 27, 2012

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



Language probably plays a role, too.

Mental illness. Such stigmatizing words,” Soper said.

It seems like a lot of responsibility to heap on two words in the English language, but some doctors, too, avoid labels. Nelson is one of them.

I would like to see less pathologizing, more hope in the picture, more encouragement,” he said.

Even so, the diagnosis can be its own medicine, or at least was in Schaefer’s case.

It’s an illness. It’s not the Matrix,” he said, referring to the sci-fi movie in which reality as we perceive it is an artificial fiction.

More hope

There are reasons to suspect attitudes are changing.

Leech said patients tend to be more comfortable with dealing with mental illness like a medical problem. The introduction of Prozac in the early ’90s did much to cement that association in the public’s mind, he said. After all, if a condition has a physical treatment, it seems likely to have a physical cause.

While depression in particular has received more acceptance, other illnesses remain off limits socially.

Schizophrenics still suffer from a myth that paints them as intrinsically violent, Leech said. That diagnosis also gets thrown around a lot, probably more than it should, he said. Its sufferers experience delusions, hallucinations, disorganized speech and catatonia, during which the victim can appear unconscious and devoid of feeling.

A large 2005 study conducted by the MacArthur Foundation asked whether those with mental illness are more violent than their neighbors.

It found that people with a major mental disorder who did not abuse drugs or alcohol were no more violent than the people who lived around them. But those with both a substance abuse disorder and a mental illness were found to be much more violent than normal.

Also, it found delusions were not associated with violence, even those delusions that cause someone to think that someone else is trying to harm them or control their thoughts.

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Special Report: Mental Health