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The stigma of mental health issues

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Sir: The diagnosis of a mental illness still carries a stigma. In spite of anti-discrimination laws protecting people afflicted with any disability or illness, covert prejudice still exists. Bias is applied, often subconsciously, by all strata of society, including the workplace. Few employers will favour a job applicant whose medical history includes episodes of psychiatric disorder. Where an applicant is required to deal with clients, apprehension would rise with regard to an employee whose behaviour might be unpredictable.

Discrimination will also affect those looking for the services of professionals. People may shy from being treated by a general practitioner or a medical specialist when that person reputedly has a mental health condition. Similarly, a lawyer or accountant, no matter how competent, may not be trusted with one’s legal matters or funds if stigmatized by a psychiatric label. Even socialisation can be affected when people start new friendships and are exploring common interests. Hearing a person you would like to befriend state candidly that he or she is schizophrenic may make you think twice about continuing on that particular path.

Can mental illness affect romance? When courting couples start to think of commitment to each other, if one has a mental health problem, there is more to consider than social and sexual compatibility. The phrase in sickness and in health may bring out noble qualities when a medical diagnosis is handed down. Coping with a partner’s psychiatric diagnosis is an entirely different matter. When making a decision about having children, fears may arise about hereditary psychiatric conditions being inherited by offspring. Is mental illness restricted to uneducated people or people living in poverty? Some Internet sites list well-known people who did not allow the stigma of a mentally-ill diagnosis to change their destinies. Let’s look at the rich and famous, remembering that depression is also a mental disorder.

British wartime leader, Winston Churchill was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder. The sixteenth U.S. President, Abraham Lincoln suffered from debilitating depression which occasioned suicidal ideation. His wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, is believed to have been schizophrenic.

Another President, Theodore Roosevelt suffered from bi-polar disorder. Scientist, Isaac Newton was known for his manic depression.Manic depression is also attributed to painter, Vincent Van Gogh. Charles Dickens, the writer, lived with clinical depression. Historical figures as well people in the media today have been noted for suffering from OCD. The list includes Charles Darwin, Howard Hughes, Albert Einstein and Ludwig Van Beethoven. Some well-known actors, including Charlie Sheen, Roseanne Barr, Harrison Ford and Cameron Diaz are also mentioned as sufferers of OCD.

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The global community needs to look at its attitudes towards those suffering the stigma of mental illness. Coping with their illness is a big enough burden for them to carry. They do not need the added weight of our judgment.
Simon Abah.


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Mental health
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