SIMPLYkc Magazine May 2016

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MIND & BODY

BY TINA KLUGMAN

BREAKING THE STIGMA OF MENTAL ILLNESS

What would you do if someone near you was choking? You would perform CPR, right? Would you know what to do if someone around you was talking about suicide? Would you know what to say? Or where to turn for additional help? We treat physical health conditions very seriously, but much work needs to be done when it comes to our ability to treat and even to understand mental health conditions. Recent events in the U.S. have brought more attention to mental health, but there are still myths and stigmas out there. “Mental illness is real. It’s common. It’s treatable. And it’s OK to talk about it.” This is the message of the Greater Kansas City Mental Health Coalition. Kim Romary, mental health coalition coordinator, says the time is right to start the conversation about mental illness. Millions of Americans — averaging out to one person in every five — experience a mental health condition during any given year. Conditions run a wide gamut. One in 20 Americans have a serious mental health issue, such as long-term depression or schizophrenia, according to The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). The most serious mental health conditions are also the most stigmatized and least understood.

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Romary hopes the stigma of mental illness will continue to decrease in similar ways to the reduction of the stigma of cancer in the 1960s and 1970s, and of AIDS/HIV in the 1980s. That’s why it is so important to talk about mental health with your loved ones. “Our call to action is start the conversation,” Romary says. “Be willing to talk about it. Having that dialogue is really what makes a difference.” Many people don’t talk about mental illness because of the stigma attached to it, and therefore may not get the treatment they need. “Getting the support of family and friends is critical in treating mental illness because it’s such an isolating experience to go through,” she explains. “The best way to support somebody is to talk to them. You don’t have to have all the answers, just be willing to hold their hand through the process.”

Know the signs; get help Signs and symptoms in adults and adolescents include: massive mood swings, prolonged or strong feelings of irritability or anger,