Guest Commentary | Battling the mental-illness stigma

Guest Commentary | Battling the mental-illness stigma


It is OK to not be OK. One in five adults in the U.S. have a mental illness (National Alliance on Mental Illness, 2018). Mental illness is a tough subject to talk about. But why? Are broken bones and infections tough subjects to talk about?

Although mental illness is prevalent in the U.S. and worldwide, it's uncanny that we as a society are so stigmatized to the term "mental illness" and prefer to keep discussion about it secretive, or even worse, brush it under the rug as if it did not exist.

An estimated 19.1 percent of U.S. adults had an anxiety disorder in the past year, and an estimated 16.2 million adults in the U.S. had at least one major depressive episode (National Institute of Mental Health, 2017).

Mental illness may cause life to spiral out of control and lead someone who has never abused substances before to find an outlet through use of alcohol or drugs. Why these numbers go unnoticed in our community can be attributed to the stigma associated with mental health.

What is stigma? Stigma is a mark of disgrace that sets a person apart from others. When a person is labeled by their illness, they are no longer seen as an individual but as part of a stereotyped group.

Stigma occurs because of fear, unfamiliarity or lack of information about mental illness. The display of mental illness in movies is often misleading and sensational, and this contributes to stigma. Stigma also exists because mental illnesses are seen as displays of moral weakness instead of complicated diseases of the brain that can be treated and managed.

There are plenty of ways to fight mental health stigma, starting with educating yourself about mental illness and showing compassion for those with a mental illness. Encouraging equality between physical and mental illness will lessen the stigma for those diagnosed with a mental illness and can empower individuals with a mental illness instead of shaming them (National Alliance on Mental Illness, 2017).

One way everyone can work to decrease stigma about mental illness is to use words respectfully and talk openly and compassionately about mental illness. Words matter.

Mental illness does not discriminate and crosses all ages, races, genders and socioeconomic classes. You may or may not recognize it, but you or someone you know is most likely battling a mental illness.

It is perfectly normal to have small amounts of anxiety or brief periods of sadness. Sometimes though, moods, thoughts and behaviors can become so powerful that normal daily functioning becomes impossible.

Then it is time to reach out for help. It is OK to not be OK, and seeking help from professionals is nothing to be ashamed of. When you have a broken arm, you go to the hospital and get a cast. Depression or anxiety is a medical condition just like asthma, diabetes or a broken bone. You should not expect yourself or a loved one to "get over it," just as you wouldn't expect yourself or a loved one to "just get over" a broken arm or diabetes.

Talking to a mental health professional may seem intimidating at first, but they are there to help and are not there to judge. However, there are ways to increase the success of getting appropriate treatment. Ask questions openly and without fear of judgment. Say exactly how you are feeling. By being persistent and advocating for yourself, you can make your mental health a top priority.

There are many resources in the community. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) hosts free support groups and a free 12-week educational program for family members and friends of a person living with a mental illness. To register, contact Nancy at 217-356-1925 or NAMI also hosts a free monthly meeting on the second Monday from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at Rosecrance, 1801 Fox Drive, C. These gatherings are for both those with a mental illness and their loved ones. NAMI welcomes anyone to get involved to educate themselves and advocate for the mentally ill.

The Suicide Hotline is available 24/7, and their number is 1-800-273-8255.

Vermilion County also hosts a resource list at

Other professional resources include OSF Heart of Mary Medical Center, The Pavilion and Crosspoint Human Services.

OSF Heart of Mary offers emergency department services and inpatient adult psychiatric services. OSF Heart of Mary is located at 1400 W. Park St., U. Their contact number is 217-337-2130.

The Pavilion offers mental health assessments and adult, youth and substance abuse inpatient services. The Pavilion also offers a Youth Residential Program and a school serving children with behavioral and learning disorders. The Pavilion is located at 809 W. Church St., C, and their contact number is 217-373-1700.

Crosspoint Human Services provides outpatient crisis support, counseling, therapy and mental health assessments. Crosspoint Human Services is located at 210 Avenue C in Danville, and their number is 217-442-3200.

It is OK to not be OK. You are not alone — seek help. Mental health is just as important as physical health.

Michael Wyskiel is a student in the Master of Science in Nursing Program within the University of Illinois College of Nursing in Urbana. For his master's project, he has been working on the Vermilion County Mental Health 708 Board with the goal of helping citizens in the community reach out for help. For two semesters, he worked alongside professionals in the behavioral unit at OSF Heart of Mary. It inspired him to pursue a career as a psychiatric nurse practitioner.