Walk to end stigma

Linda Beilharz is Walk for Mental Health Publicity chairwoman, a state employee and family member of someone with a mental illness

Why are good people willing to dismiss other people with chronic mental illnesses as “crazy” and ignore the urgency of their predicament in our community?

Most of us fill our lives with one thing or another—work, school, family obligations, and other pursuits that are considered productive. If you’re living a charmed life, you’re not likely to have to worry about your grasp on reality as you cruise down the road in air-conditioned contentment, going to or from a comfortable home.

Imagine what it would be like if all that you have achieved and accumulated were taken away. If you were afflicted with a serious brain disorder, your ability to think, feel and relate normally to other people and your surroundings would be impaired. This might result in the loss of your job, your home and possessions, and finally in the disintegration of family relationships and friends. Without a job and a supportive social structure, you may do desperate things and go to jail.

We need to replace the myths about mental illness with facts. Mental illnesses are chronic disorders centered in the brain’s chemistry, similar to the way that the chronic illness known as diabetes is centered in the pancreas. Mental illnesses are more common than cancer, heart disease and diabetes. People with mental illness are often blamed for being ill, as if it were a character flaw. But you can’t will your brain to function normally, any more than a person with diabetes can will their pancreas to function normally.

The good news is that brain disorders are like any other chronic medical condition, with options for treatment and recovery. There is hope! Many people are able to manage their conditions and resume productive lives with support from the community.

Join us on the Walk for Mental Health next Saturday. Show support and help to erase the stigma for people who struggle—and succeed—with mental illness.

Join us next Saturday, October 6, on the west side of the Capitol. After the Walk for Mental Health, visit the health fair. For more information, go to www.walkformentalhealth.com. Show support and help to ease the stigma for people who struggle, and succeed, with mental illness.