As far as I know, I don't have a single patient who is ashamed of having high blood pressure. Nobody hides their chest pain from me because they're afraid I'll think worse of them. But millions of Americans think twice about seeking help for mental illness. They fear the reaction of their friends, employers, and even their doctors. In one study, 49 out of 60 patients who committed suicide had seen a physician within six months of their death. Most of these patients had previous histories of suicide attempts but never told their doctor. As Ms. Close points out in her eloquent Huffington Post blog, "The mentally ill frighten and embarrass us. And so we marginalize the people who most need our acceptance."
And, yes, we ARE talking about millions of Americans. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, about one in four Americans suffers from some form of mental illness. The illnesses include depression, bipolar disease, schizophrenia, anxiety disorders, post-partum mood disorders, phobias, obsessive compulsive disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, eating disorders, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism, and personality disorders.
For this week's CBS Doc Dot Com, I discussed the stigmatization of mental illness with Wendy Brennan, executive director of NAMI-NYC Metro. Click here to watch the interview:
Click here for a NAMI fact sheet about mental illness: