Have Mental Illness? Don't Expect to be Welcome at the Olympics.

Eileen Bailey Health Guide
  • Each year, one in four people suffer from a diagnosable mental illness in the United States. In addition, six percent of the population combats serious mental illness. But this problem is not just found in the U.S. Around the world; fifteen percent of "the burden of disease" is caused by mental illness. (National Institute of Mental Health, 2008)


    Even with the worldwide problem, mental illness is misunderstood and still carries a certain stigma with it. This has come to the attention of the world when China banned people with mental illness from entering the country to attend the Olympics. Lin Chiu, a veteran pharmacist in China, "Many Chinese have a very vague idea as to what mental illness is. To a lot of them, they tend to relate mental illness to violence, with little knowledge that there are various degrees and types of mental illness." ("Mental Illness - Chinese Style", Pendulum Resources, 2002)

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    There is a risk of protests, against China's trades with Sudan, against China's treatment of Tibet. To help quell any protests before they begin, the Chinese authorities have created a guide for visitors. Included in this guide:


    • No sleeping outdoors
      No protests without government permission
      No insulting slogans or banners
      No religious or political banners


    In addition to rules on behaviors that will and will not be accepted at the Olympics, entry to China will be denied to "smugglers, drug traffickers, prostitutes and those with "mental illness" or contagious conditions." It is evident that mental illness is associated with criminal behavior in the eyes of the Chinese. ("China Prepares to Ban Foreign Undesirables From The Olympics", Mail Online, June 2, 2008) Infractions to these rules are subject to administrative punishments or criminal prosecution.


    The United States has come a long way. The beliefs set forth by the Chinese government are no longer widespread in this country. Mental health clinics are available in almost all communities. There is more understanding, more support groups, more help available now than just ten years ago. People with mental illnesses are protected under the American's with Disabilities Act, prohibiting discrimination in the workplace, educational institutions and other public places. Information has helped to increase awareness. We have come a long way.


    But, shame and stigma are still here. A share post by E. Clarke Ross, CEO of CHADD, just this week, discusses public attitudes towards ADHD. Clarke talks about "radio talk show host Michael Savage and his colleague Selwyn Duke making declarations this week about the "fraud" of autism, added to their previous declarations about the "fraud" of AD/HD..." The emotional drain of living with ADHD, and other mental illnesses, is compounded by the ignorance and misunderstanding that exist, not just in China, but here, in our country.


    Parents are still afraid to discuss ADHD with their children's teachers; worried they will be singled out or poorly treated or made fun of because of their diagnosis. Adults are afraid to discuss their diagnosis with their employer, concerned about discrimination or being mocked or fired.


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    We have come a long way and we are nowhere near the depths of the misunderstanding of mental illness found in China, but we still must overcome ignorance and work toward greater understanding.


Published On: August 05, 2008