Author: Gregg F. Martin Ph.D.
Each of us will know someone with a mental condition – family, friend, neighbor, colleague, or self, as more than 60 million of us are afflicted, or one in five Americans. Encourage them to get medical help and treatment. Untreated, mental illness can lead to disaster and suicide. With medical treatment, the chances for a healthy, happy, successful life are high. Getting medical help could make all the difference in keeping them happy, healthy and alive.
Help stop the stigma of shame and embarrassment that so illogically still surrounds mental health and deters people from seeking medical help. It’s a medieval perspective and must go away. No one is ashamed to have heart disease, cancer, diabetes, or a broken leg. They acknowledge and accept it, go for medical help, get cured and healed hopefully, and go on with their lives. Why should mental illness be any different? It shouldn’t!
Nearly fifty years ago, women with breast cancer faced stigma, shame and embarrassment. But First Lady Betty Ford heroically took this on, openly told the truth, and changed our culture for the better. Betty Ford was a brave, honest leader, with a warrior spirit. She broke the ice that led to a significant change in our culture.
Today, fighting breast cancer is rightfully seen as a heroic cause, as it should be. Women fighting breast cancer are celebrated in a wonderful way. Even NFL players wear pink ribbons and pink shoes! As they should! And so it should also be for those suffering with mental illness, which works invisibly, inside the brain, but which is no less “real”.
We all must teach and learn that mental illnesses are physiological and “real”, though invisible and inside the brain. Mental illness is not due to character flaws or lack of will. It’s not the fault of the afflicted, so they should not be blamed. They need help, encouragement, and medical care so they can heal and recover.
Like I learned in the Army, we must all relentlessly seek truth; love people; and fight fiercely through the finish. Join me in stopping the stigma, which is the primary villain that deters people from getting medical help. We must defeat this insidious villain, so that no one who has a mental condition feels deterred from seeking timely medical help.
Further, we must all envision, describe, believe, and exhort others that those battling mental conditions are heroic figures, just like our brave women who are fighting breast cancer. Perhaps we can design an attractive colored symbol to represent this, as pink ribbons do for breast cancer today.
I welcome you to join me in being open, honest and transparent in this cause.
Stop the stigma, lift up this heroic cause, and save lives.
Be a leader. Spread the word.
With assistance from David Woods Bartley and Denise Nolan.
This post appeared earlier in The Orlando Sentinel.
Gregg F. Martin, Ph.D., is a 36-year Army combat veteran, retired 2-star general, and bipolar survivor, thriver, and warrior. His forthcoming book is entitled Bipolar General: My “Forever War” with Mental Illness. Check out General Gregg’s Corner here!