BREAK THE STIGMA….TODAY I once listened to a well-respected man in his community have the courage to ask an audience of well-educated people to break the stigma of mental illness. I was inspired, took some of the below material from an organization call www.breakthestigma.org, and wrote this column. All my life, I have seen blue and purple as the same color. I have also confused red and yellow. At night, I must stop at flashing intersections because I cannot distinguish between the red and yellow flashing lights. The vast majority of people cannot imagine how this could be. Why do I have problems with colors? Because I am color blind, I was born this way, and this is my reality. Chances are that you are not color blind. I also do not think that color blindness is a mental illness. But, some folks believe that because traffic lights are separate colors and there is a clear distinction between stop and go that everyone should know the difference. Well, in this example, mental illness works the same way. In many cases, those not affected can’t comprehend and then judge those affected by mental illness. Much like our traffic light example, some are unaware that everyone doesn’t recognize, stop and go, or know the difference between reality and illusion. Imagine telling me to stop confusing the colors. Ridiculous right? That’s like telling someone with cancer to stop being sick. Boys and girls of every race, class, political affiliation, or any other class divide are affected by mental illness. Actually, because of our extension of friends and family, mental illness affects us all. Blame is often placed on the sufferers of mental illness; and ignorance runs rampant contributing to the stigma that drives this continuous worldwide problem. Additionally, as Southerners, we are taught from the day we are born to “be strong”, “cover up our weaknesses”, and to “put on our game face.” While I am very proud to be a son of the South, this cultural aspect of our region only adds to the stigma and colossal ignorance of mental illness. Individual, family, and societal wellness as well as the economy are being critically affected by the enormity of people lost in this struggle. Life for those affected with and by mental health disorders are in constant danger. We are in danger because those with the illness don’t seek treatment. And why do so few of those who suffer fail to seek treatment? Well, many people with mental health disorders believe in the stigma placed on them by society. They are in denial or believe that seeking treatment is a personal weakness and are ashamed to admit they need help. Don’t believe me? Try telling your boss you’re overwhelmed because you’re going through clinical depression. Doesn’t seem like an easy task to do, right? Your boss could think you’re unstable or inadequate. Shame caused by the stigma is just a sample of what is done to people affected by illness. So what can we do? West Georgia is already taking steps to break this stigma. With the support of our local judges, particularly Betty Cason, legislators, sheriff departments, and others too numerous to name, we are establishing mental health courts, changing the way that mentally ill defendants are “punished”, and changing the way our culture views mental illness. We can also Break the Stigma by: 1) not sweeping mental health disorders under the rug and becoming compassionate about tragedies caused by the stigma; 2) addressing societal apathy towards treatment of the illness; and 3) addressing the lack of education about the complexity of the disorders. 4)addressing the lack of adequate treatment resources and approaches. In other words, we could break the stigma by becoming mental health advocates. It is estimated that one in five people in the world are affected by the illness. Break the Stigma of Mental Illness TODAY.