Changing Mental Illness from a Disabling Condition to a Heroic Cause

Author: Major General Gregg F. Martin, PhD, US Army Retired


As World Bipolar Day approaches on March 30th, let’s build on our momentum and progress and keep it going…for years to come!


By no more than one percent of separation, we all know someone with a mental health disorder – family, friend, neighbor, colleague. And, thanks to the forced isolation of COVID, the monster of mental illness continues on its brutal rampage, and it’s building momentum. While statistics vary and are underreported for fear of being labeled, stigmatized and discriminated against, at least one in five of the global population are living with a mental illness.


As it stands now, the stigma and discrimination attached to mental illness is both a societal embarrassment and a medieval perspective. For something as damning as stigma and discrimination to continue to act as a roadblock to mental health resources is tantamount to cruel and unusual punishment.


This becomes even more clear with the realization that most mental illness takes root from the seeds of genetics and some form of trauma. Once embedded inside our body and left unattended, the disorder often becomes systemic and takes residence in one of our body’s primary organs, the brain.


Knowing this, we realize mental illness is not the choice of or fault of the afflicted. It is a medical condition, not a character defect, and we must view it in the same light we see any other organ disease.


Consider that there is no shame focused upon the person stricken with heart disease, cancer, or diabetes. Instead, they are supported, allowing them to acknowledge their condition, seek medical help, become active in their treatment plan, and continue with their lives.


Why should mental illness be any different? It shouldn’t!


Nearly fifty years ago, women with breast cancer faced similar stigma and shame. But First Lady Betty Ford heroically took this on, openly told the truth, and changed breast cancer from a condition to a cause.


Today, fighting breast cancer is rightfully seen as a heroic cause, and in that light, people line up to help in any way they can. Even professional athletes wear pink ribbons and pink shoes to honor those in what can be the fight of their life.


And so it should be for those who have a mental illness.


In the Army, I learned to seek truth, love people, and fight fiercely through to the objective.  I am passionate in my belief that the same approach will have us see the day when those who suffer at the hands of the monster of mental illness will be pulled free from his grasp, embraced with compassion, and escorted to a pedestal of resources and assistance.


If you are suffering, I implore you to seek medical help for yourself. If you know someone who is, encourage them to get medical help and treatment. Untreated, mental illness can lead to disaster: shattered marriages, families, and careers; homelessness, addictions, prison and suicide. Mental health disorders not only affect the individual, but the collateral damage to those you love can be devastating. However, with medical treatment, the chances for a healthy, happy, successful life are high.


Would you please join me in a campaign to defeat the insidious villains known as stigma and discrimination, so that no one who has a mental illness feels deterred from getting timely medical help? I invite you to stand with me in being open, honest, and transparent in this cause.


If we can help save one life, our efforts will be worthwhile and a blessing beyond compare.


End stigma and discrimination. Lift fighting mental illness to a heroic cause, and witness lives being saved.



Major General Gregg F. Martin, Ph.D., is a 36-year Army combat veteran, bipolar survivor, and retired two-star general. A West Point and MIT graduate, he is a former president of National Defense University and a qualified Airborne-Ranger-Engineer and Strategist. General Martin lives with his wife in Cocoa Beach, Florida, and works full-time as an ardent mental health advocate. His forthcoming book is titled “Bipolar General: my struggle with mental illness.”  For more info, visit Initially published in the Orlando Sentinel


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