Are the Mentally Ill Worthy of Care? Stigma and Depression
From a state-wide perspective, it seems the answer is no. In my local newspaper, there have been horrific stories lately about the neglect and abuse of patients who have the misfortune of being mentally ill. The stories I am about to cite are unfortunately not unique to any one state.
I read one headline in the newspaper where health care technicians at a state psychiatric hospital in Goldsboro, North Carolina, were charged in the beating of a male patient. In yet another story, a patient at another state mental facility actually died after sitting in a chair for 22 hours without food or attention while the hospital staff walked right by him, watched TV, and even played cards. I could not hold back my own tears of shock and absolute dismay that human beings could be treated this way - our most vulnerable population of the mentally ill.
In only 13% of cases, charges are filed for beatings, neglect, and even death. In other words, the system is getting away with this. It is true that the lowest paid and the least trained workers spend the most time with these patients. Yet even this seems hardly an excuse for what goes on.
What is the result of all this?
In my state, the result is the punishment of the mentally ill with a 7 percent cut for mental health service for the state's seriously mentally ill residents. Instead of an attempt to address these grave problems within the system, the reaction is to punish those who need help the most.
And instead of outrage, the public seems to turn its back to the problem or express their great displeasure at using tax money for the purpose of helping the mentally ill. I quite often read the editorial section of my local newspaper and I was disgusted by one man's sentiments that the mentally ill are "unworthy" of our time and money. I will just share a snippet of his comments:
"The state wants to know where it will get the money to fix our roads and bridges in the face of declining revenues from gasoline taxes. How about by getting out of the mental health care business and using that money for worthwhile purposes such as improving our infrastructure. If the state accepted this proposal, the mentally ill would be in the same boat as people suffering from all manner of illnesses. Why could the mentally ill complain about having to cope in the same way as a cancer patient?"
So there you have it. There is the opinion out there that the mentally ill are not worthy of care because they are not as sick as someone who has cancer. In this short editorial comment, this individual clearly reflects the stigma which still exists for those who suffer from any type of mental illness. And I say this needs to change.
Mental illness is still seen as a social or personal issue, and not as a health concern. People with mental retardation or developmental disabilities get at least two or three more dollars per person for their care than the mentally ill. The reason? Stigma. The mentally ill are clearly at the low end of the pool as far as receiving public compassion, adequate health care, and funding spent to assist them to become integrated into the community.
How does one make a change? There is a book out there called Don't Call Me Nuts! Coping With the Stigma of Mental Illness,by Patrick W. Corrigan and Robert K. Lundin. This book explores the many ways to fight stigma both personally and within the mental health care system. The authors cite research which shows that the most effectiveway of changing stigma is through personal contact with others. They report thatanti-stigma campaigns are not as effective as spreading a personal message. Corrigan and Lundinbelieve that true change will come from the trained person with mental illness who is in contact with society, notfrom some billboard or advertising campaign.
It is imperative that we, who do suffer from any type of mental illness, be ready when the opportunity arises, to educate and inform. Perhaps one person at a time, we can make a difference. The best person(s) to advocate for change in how mental illness is viewed is from those who have first hand experience in living with mental illness themselves. There is a long road ahead to make any sort of lasting change but it has to start somewhere, with me and you.
Please share your own stories of how stigma has personally affected you in dealing with your depression. What do you feel needs to change in order for this stigma to go away? What can we do as individuals to fight for the right of all people suffering from mental illness to be deemed as worthy of good and adequate care?