Monday, September 14, 2020

DAY 14 - Stigma Can Be Fatal

It is not possible to overstate the devastating impact that stigma has on every aspect of mental illness and suicide.

The concept of mental illness as a character flaw is antiquated. Expecting people to shake off their suicidal depression is neither fair nor effective. Shaming people for dying by suicide also shames those who are still living with thoughts of suicide. This shame can push a person from contemplation into action and can have tragic consequences.

Almost all new research into suicide indicates that there are physiological responses in the brain that impact a suicidal person't ability to process information and maintain a balanced emotional state. There are numerous evidence based scientific studies that indicate that everything from erratic dips in serotonin levels, to neuro-transmitter impairment, have an effect on the brain that significantly increases suicidal ideation.

While behavior modification based therapies (counseling, making phone calls, socializing) can have a very positive impact on treatment outcomes, alone these efforts are sometimes not enough. One symptom of mental illness is that the sufferer's motivation levels are so impaired, they isolate and are unable to make it to therapy appointments or reach out for social support. Many will tell you that their bodies felt heavy, achy or exhausted, in addition to the emotional symptoms of depression. Research has shown that the areas of the brain that are impacted by mental illness also have physiological symptoms.

The more we learn about the physiological causes for mental illnesses, the better we'll be at identifying effective treatment.

However, stigma means that the vast majority of the general public believes that suicidal desperation is a choice that a person is making. It would be more accurate to say that suicidality is a life-threatening symptom of physiological brain malfunctions.

We are in desperate need of more research and more effective treatment modalities. But, because of the pervasive and stigmatizing belief that suicide is a 'choice', research into the physiological causes of mental illness and suicide is not given the priority it should be.

Because of stigma, insurance companies have gotten away with providing only limited services to their members who are dealing with mental illness.

Because of stigma, those suffering with suicidal despair are far less likely to reach out for help.

Because of stigma, the families and loved ones who are grieving a suicide receive far less support than those who have lost someone to a cause other than suicide.

Because of stigma, the ugliness of guilt and blame are perpetuated and contribute to shame.

Shame can have a devastating and lethal impact on a person't mental health.

Stigma can be fatal.

We must remove the barrier of stigma from effective suicide prevention and treatment.

You can make a difference in fighting stigma. Educate yourself about the statistics, causes, and treatments that are available. Reach out and support those who are suffering. Talk about mental illness in a non-judgemental way. Speak up if you hear stigmatizing beliefs being spread.

We need you. Begin now.

"Many people with serious mental illness are challenged doubly. On one hand, they struggle with the symptoms and disabilities that result from the disease. On the other, they are challenged by the stereotypes and prejudice that result from misconceptions about mental illness. As a result of both, people with mental illness are robbed of the opportunities that define a quality life: good jobs, safe housing, satisfactory health care, and affiliation with a diverse group of people."

Patrick W. Corrigan and Amy C. Watson
National Institutes of Health

[Originally published 9/4/2018]