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Even Today, the Stigma of Mental Illness Won't Fade
Date:12/29/2011

By Dennis Thompson
HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, Dec. 29 (HealthDay News) -- People with a mental illness struggle with symptoms ranging from crushing depression and crippling anxiety to powerful delusions and hallucinations that force them to actively sort out the real from the imagined.

And if that weren't enough, they also have to deal with the way the rest of the world perceives their inner struggle.

Stigma associated with mental illness remains widespread in U.S. society, despite some progress made in demystifying these medical conditions, said Michael J. Fitzpatrick, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).

"It's pervasive, but it's nuanced, too," Fitzpatrick said. "Most Americans understand that mental illnesses are treatable illnesses. I think people basically understand depression. Depression is talked about in the media and is considered a treatable disease. But when you reach psychosis and schizophrenia, there's still a lot of misunderstanding and fear."

As a result, people with a mental illness often feel isolated, afraid and rejected by society -- a stigma that causes many people to go without the treatment they need, said Dr. Garianne Gunter, an adult and child psychiatrist with the South Carolina Department of Mental Health.

An estimated one in five people will suffer from a mental or neurological disorder at some point in their lives, according to NAMI. Yet two-thirds of people with a known mental disorder never seek treatment.

"A lot of times, people won't seek help for mental illness because of the stigma," Gunter said. "They won't get help until they're near suicide or they are suffering from very severe symptoms."

The U.S. military has recognized this as a problem for troops returning from active duty in a war zone, Gunter said. Soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder or another form of mental injury, she said, won't seek help becaus
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