The Associated Press released an article today regarding President Obama’s desire to “end the stigma of mental illness”. Yes!!!! Obama made public his intentions at a conference that was actually organized to discuss the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings. Attending the conference was actor Bradley Cooper, who recently portrayed to high acclaim a man suffering with bipolar disorder. Also in attendance was Glenn Close, who has recently been seen with her bipolar sister in television commercials promoting awareness of mental illness. The National Association of Broadcasters has announced its new campaign to promote positive awareness of mental illness through a series of TV commercials, radio ads and other social media outlets. On a personal level, Ms. Close helped to start an organization called “Bring Change 2 Mind”. This non-profit group produces public service announcements designed to reduce the stigma associated with mental illness.
President Obama is quoted as saying his goal in hosting the conference is to “bring mental illness out of the shadows”. He commented that, “We whisper about mental health issues and avoid asking too many questions….. There should be no shame in discussing or seeking help for treatable illnesses that affect too many people that we love. We’ve got to get rid of that embarrassment. We’ve got to get rid of that stigma”. I have previously quoted author Terri Cheney in several past posts, loving what she says about how “disease thrives on shame, and shame thrives on silence”. Obama gets that. He recognizes that in order to reduce the stigma and discrimination associated with mental illness, we have to open up. We have to promote awareness. We have to talk about our disorders. We have to show the public that there should be no shame in mental illness, and to do that we must not remain silent.
Part of President Obama’s health care initiative includes improvements to mental health coverage. In fact, next year there will be a ban on denying coverage to people suffering with mental illness. Public spending on services to aid the mentally ill has been greatly reduced in recent years, leading to closures of psychiatric hospitals and a reduction in care available to patients who need it the most. It is commonly believed that until community services intended to help the mentally ill can be funded by the government, the stigma will remain. Vice President Biden was quoted as saying, “Think of the irony here if through your great efforts, we encourage people to come forward and they find out there’s no one there to help them or they have to wait a long time”. It reminds me of the line from the movie, “Field of Dreams”: “If you build it, they will come”. If the government provides federally funded assistance to patients suffering with mental illness, they will step forward. They will emerge out of “the shadows”. And perhaps they will do so shamelessly, as they should.
Bringing someone like Bradley Cooper on board is a great move. He may not be directly affected himself by bipolar disorder or another mental illness as was his character in “Silver Linings Playbook”, but for those of us who are shallow (as I am) and easily influenced by a handsome man in a well-tailored suit, he could by a great spokesmodel. He’s been actively promoting awareness of mental illness for several months and is publicly acknowledging that it had been part of his life without realizing it. He says he has friends who have suffered silently for years who finally worked up the courage to come forward following his Oscar-nominated portrayal of a bipolar man re-emerging into society following a short stint at a psychiatric hospital.
But even Bradley, Glenn and Barack can’t do this without some public support. And that’s where we come in. We need to start speaking up. How many of our friends don’t know that we suffer? How many of us are silent? How many of us don’t publicly admit that we have a mental illness? Silence breeds shame. We need to not worry what our neighbors would think if they knew we have mental diseases. We have to stop living in the shadows of the stigma, and step forward and admit that we are ill and need public resources to help us to get better.
I’ll go first:
Hello. My name is Cecily, and I am bipolar.
There. That wasn’t so bad. Your turn.