End stigma and create compassion

In this age where technology emerges at rapid pace there remains a baffling amount of misunderstanding about mental illness. The medical science related to diagnosing and treating mental illness is as extensive as the science related to treating diabetes or arthritis. The fact remains that even among educated people, mental illness is often seen as a fault and not a physical health affliction. Stigma about mental illness is predominant and implies that mental illness is a flaw of character. Stigma is harmful because it is an obstacle for many to receive psychiatric treatment and it directly stands in the way of social acceptance.

Stigma about mental illness is very evident on television, in movies, and news reports. Everyday conversation often casts light to show us that there is misunderstanding about mental illness. One of the biggest misunderstandings is that mental illness is related to violent behavior.

Mental illness is a physical illness brought about by an imbalance of natural brain chemicals, neurotransmitters. When symptoms develop, an evaluation is done, a diagnosis is made, and a course of treatment, including medications, is prescribed. Similar to every physical illness, when treatment is received it decreases symptoms of mental illness and moves the individual into the recovery stage. Mental illness is not the same thing as predisposition to violent behavior. Facts, including long-standing research and sociological data, show that individuals with mental illness are far less likely to engage in violent behaviors and are more often victims of violence than the general public. 

Comparing mental illness to violent behavior is like comparing apples to oranges. Please ask yourself, “What if I were treated like a violent person through no fault of my own?” Also ask yourself, “What if people in my community talked about me being flawed and unacceptable?”  These questions evoke sadness, fear and anxiety. This experience is similar to what people managing mental illness face every day. It would be amazingly helpful if people in every community could take the empathy they feel from asking these questions and turn it into compassion! Compassion creates changes and 2014 is the year to end stigma with compassionate thinking.

The Compeer Program at Far West Center in Westlake serves adults in recovery from mental illness. Compeer encourages these individuals to reconnect with their communities. Now that you understand the impact of stigma you can understand that these men and women have to face and conquer a great deal of social anxiety to be able to reconnect.

On Saturday, Sept. 20, Compeer is participating in the “NAMI WALKS” event for the Greater Cleveland affiliate of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. For more information about NAMI Greater Cleveland, visit namigreatercleveland.org. Please consider volunteering for Compeer and use your compassion to improve the lives of people in recovery from mental illness. Contact Compeer at Far West Center: 440-835-6212, ext. 242.

Denise Ayres

The Compeer Program has been serving adults that are managing mental illness from our Far West Center office beginning in 1989! The Compeer Program is a branch of Compeer, Inc., an international organization with an evidence based program model. Compeer matches adult volunteers with same gender adult consumers of mental health services to provide friendship, emotional support, and encouragement. Denise Ayres, Compeer Program Coordinator, is a Licensed Social Worker with many years of working in adult mental health services.  Holly Henderson, Peer Support Specialist,is certified as a state Peer Counselor.

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Volume 6, Issue 19, Posted 10:01 AM, 09.16.2014