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EDITORIAL: Learning to talk about mental illness

Salem News - 5/2/2019

May 02-- May 2--"Despite the efficacy of treatment options and the many possible ways of obtaining a treatment of choice, nearly half of all Americans who have a severe mental illness do not seek treatment. Most often, reluctance to seek care is an unfortunate outcome of very real barriers. Foremost among these is the stigma that many in our society attach to mental illness and to people who have a mental illness.

"Stigma erodes the confidence that mental disorders are valid, treatable health conditions. It leads people to avoid socializing, employing or working with, or renting to or living near persons who have a mental disorder, especially a severe disorder like schizophrenia. Stigma deters the public from wanting to pay for care and, thus, reduces consumers' access to resources and opportunities for treatment and social services. A consequent inability or failure to obtain treatment reinforces destructive patterns of low self-esteem, isolation and hopelessness. Stigma tragically deprives people of their dignity and interferes with their full participation as a society. It must be overcome."

So wrote U.S. Surgeon General Dr. David Satcher -- in 1999.

Twenty years later, the stigma surrounding mental health issues is still a formidable barrier to treatment, even as new federal regulations have brought some level of parity between physical and mental health treatments. A mere 41 percent of American adults suffering from a mental illness received help in the past year, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).

"Research suggests that the majority of people hold negative attitudes and stereotypes toward people with mental illness," clinical psychologist Michael Friedman wrote in Psychology Today. "From a young age, children will refer to others as 'crazy' or 'weird.' These terms are used commonly throughout adulthood as well. ... This bias is not limited to people who are either uninformed or disconnected from people with mental illness; in fact, health care providers and even some mental health professionals hold these very same stereotypes."

Unless confronted, the trend looks to entrap a new generation; a recent study by the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association revealed a stunning 31 percent increase since 2014 in depression among Massachusetts residents born between 1981 and 1996 -- the so-called millennial generation.

This weekend, local residents will have a first-hand opportunity to learn how to talk about mental illness openly and compassionately, and how to offer the same support for someone suffering an illness, be it physical or mental. On Saturday, the Tri-Town Council, in conjunction with NAMI, McLean Hospital and several other local organizations, will hold a forum featuring John T. Broderick Jr. as keynote speaker. In 2002, the former chief justice of the New Hampshire Supreme Court was attacked by his oldest son. Broderick ended up in the hospital with serious injuries; his son was sent to prison, where he was eventually diagnosed with depression and severe anxiety.

"My wife and I are baby boomers," Broderick said at an event in New Hampshire earlier this year. "We knew nothing about mental illness because no one ever talked about it."

Broderick has dedicated much of his life since 2002 to talking publicly and bluntly about his family's experiences. It is exactly the kind of openness needed to finally dispel the myths surrounding mental illness. The Topsfield event, cosponsored by the council, the Congregational Church of Topsfield and state Sen. Joan Lovely, runs from 10 a.m. to 12:15 p.m., with Broderick's remarks followed by a panel discussion. For more information and to register, go to


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