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    Posted December 17, 2012 by
    Farmersburg, Indiana
    This iReport is part of an assignment:
    Newtown school shooting: Thoughts and tributes

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    Mental Health: Change in Perception Needed


    CNN PRODUCER NOTE     k3vsDad told me, ' As a person who has suffered for major depression a good portion of my life, to this day my own father is reluctant to accept that there is real illness and not that it is “all in your head, so get over it.” In this country, the world’s only super power, we are reluctant to deal with or accept those with any type of mental imbalance or concern. We do not deal with mental illness or those afflicted, but too often either try to ignore them, send them out in to the streets to deal the best they can. Most mental health concerns can be treated and those afflicted live “normal” and productive lives if we can get past the stigma and look realistically at the problem and give the same concern and treatment we afford to physical conditions and illnesses.'
    - hhanks, CNN iReport producer

    Since  the horrific shooting massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in  Newtown, Connecticut on Friday, a lot of the discussion has turned to  mental health and mental illness. The subject of identifying and keeping  those suffering from some type of mental illness has been linked to  talks of gun control, ways to keep those who are afflicted from access  to firearms and better identification of those who may be ill or  suffering.

    It  is good that the nation is talking about mental health and mental  illness. However, a lot of the conversation is reflecting the stigma,  fear and misinformation about mental illness. It is very evident that  many speaking out are lumping all those who have mental concerns or  issues into a basket of loonies or nutcases or crazed killers waiting  for the opportunity to lash out with mayhem. This shows a lack of  understanding and education on the range of mental illnesses and the  various treatments, remedies and solutions to maintaining good mental  health.

    There  was a time when cancer or AIDS was only mentioned in whispers. Today it  is talked about openly. There was a time that shame and revulsion was  attached to those who were inflicted with these diseases. Even the  families were often ostracized or talked about in hushed tones. Times  changed as did perceptions and advances in treatment and research  increased.

    Sadly,  mental illness still carries it's own "scarlet letter" bringing shame,  guilt and false, hurtful jibes at not just those of us who have some  form of mental affliction, but also our families. People don't want to  talk about mental problems.

    Even  insurance companies and the government quite often do not treat or look  at mental health in the same light as physical health. Mental illness  is too often not treated the same as any other illness. Pregnancy is  treated as any other illness by insurance companies, but far too many  policies limit, to the detriment of the patient, treatment of mental  problems.

    Courts  and states a long time ago closed down state run mental facilities,  which sadly proved inadequate. These facilities were mostly a means of  keeping the "mad" folk away from society in general. Families would  place their loved ones in such centers and forget they existed. When  those hospitals and facilities were closed down, many of those who had  resided there were sent into the streets to fend for themselves.

    Even  today, if anyone has any type of mental illness, parents are reluctant  to admit their child could have such a problem. Siblings recoil.  Classmates, fellow workers, church members pull away and try to pretend  they don't exist or do not have a problem.

    There  are so many levels of mental illness. So many of these conditions are  treatable. There are some for which there is no effective treatment, but  those are the minority of cases. For many of us, such as myself, we  suffer from depression. People are so clueless to what depression is.  Then there are those with bipolar or schizophrenic conditions. Others  have varied affective disorders or adjustment reactions.

    Yet,  we speak in whispered tones or we refuse to acknowledge the mentally  ill exist or that anyone of us could have a family member with  "problems".

    Yes,  we need to strengthen laws, medical and psychological exams, background  checks to insure that those with a mental illness that could threaten  or lead to acts of violence be kept from obtaining firearms. But at the  same time we must change the perception of mental illness. We must  embrace mental health. We must treat mental illness the same as any  other illness. We must get rid of the stigma, the shame, the  condemnation of those who may need help for a lifetime, episodically, or  just a little help in getting over a hurdle.

    We need acceptance and tolerance. We need education. We need better understanding.

    Until  society comes to grips with the fact that not all of us are the  paragons of mental stability in the same way that not all of us are  titans in physical prowess, we will continue to see those needing  treatment go untreated. We will continue to see parents, loved ones,  children, spouses, friends refusing to talk about the concerns and  issues of someone with a mental problem until it's too late. We must  embrace each other warts and all. We must start talking openly without  shame, without stigma about mental illness and mental health. We need to  break the barriers in health insurance that still refuses to recognize  mental illness as the same as any other illness.

    From  the Cornfield, the nation needs to be having a conversation about  mental illness and mental health, but we also need a change in our  attitudes and perceptions about those of us who deal with or are  afflicted with some type of mental issue or concern.

    Then and only then may we be better able to identify and prevent those who may be heading toward a violent and tragic end.

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