Sharon West: Time to put away the mental health stigma – Asheville Citizen

Dare I say that each of us knows someone or perhaps has observed someone with mental illness — diagnosed or not. A few years ago, I recall the movie “Out of Darkness,” which featured Diana Ross portraying a young woman with schizophrenia. It is available to be viewed on YouTube still. This movie opened my eyes to mental illness and how with treatment, individuals can improve remarkably. It also shared what happens when medications are stopped. Individuals can spiral down hill quickly.

How many of you recall family members who were referenced as “different” or “they are having some problems”? It was an unspoken rule to not ask about that person nor to talk to that person. But at dinner time, a plate was “taken up” for them, and usually a designated family member would make sure that person received the plate of food in their locked room. It was a well-kept secret — considered a stigma that a relative has mental health issues.

How many of us have seen people walking in downtown having full conversations — with themselves?

The National Alliance on Mental Illness states that 1 in 5 people experience a mental health condition at some point in their lives. Here are other statistics from NAMI:

• Approximately 1 in 25 adults in the U.S. — 9.8 million, or 4 percent — experiences a serious mental illness in a given year that substantially interferes with or limits one or more major life activities.

• Approximately 1 in 5 youths ages 13-18 (21.4 percent) experiences a severe mental disorder at some point during their life. For children ages 8-15, the estimate is 13 percent.

• 1.1 percent of adults in the U.S. live with schizophrenia.

• 2.6 percent of adults in the U.S. live with bipolar disorder.

• 6.9 percent of adults in the U.S. — 16 million — had at least one major depressive episode in the past year.

• 18.1 percent of adults in the U.S. experienced an anxiety disorder such as post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and specific phobias.

• African-American men are diagnosed with schizophrenia three times more often than white men exhibiting the same symptoms. White men tend to be diagnosed as having a depressive disorder. This disparate labeling can prove to be a barrier for African-Americans seeking care.

• Only about 25 percent of African-Americans seek help for symptoms affecting their mental health, compared with 40 percent of whites.

If you or a loved one is experiencing mental health challenges, seek out help through a mental health professional. There is no shame in reaching out to an expert who can help you navigate through this. If medications are necessary, today’s medications are very sophisticated and funding assistance may be available.

Notify your doctor of what is being experienced and/or observed; they are on standby to help connect to appropriate resources.

Seek help if you feel depressed or despondent, are not sleeping well or sleeping too much or are feeling hopeless, anxious or “down and blue.”

The new statement these days is “feeling some kind of way.” If you are “feeling some kind of way,” there is help. Say something! Don’t be ashamed, seek help. We want you well.

This is the opinion of Sharon West, a registered nurse in Asheville. Contact her at