To the editor:
Clearly, there has been an enormous amount of progress toward broad popular acceptance of the problem of serious mental illness.
What began with the isolated acts of few brave individuals has snowballed into a more general consensus that like physical ailments, mental illness is a problem that can be faced and dealt with.
Conversations once conducted only in hushed tones in back rooms are now taking place in public squares. This can only be good. More people are finding the where-with-all to step forward, many of them earlier rather than later. They are finding the medical resources to get better.
Still, the stigma that faces those of us who are making this walk persists. Many find that they are able to carry on what passes for a normal life, going to school, working, even making an independent living. But it would be radically premature to claim that the stigma we confront is entirely gone.
If no where else it comes up on such innocuous occasions as a visit to an optometrist for an eye exam and a new pair of glasses, or a less frequent trip to a new dentist. On such occasions when a list of current medications is requested, an uninformed stranger is given a one-sided and tilted view into a life they know very little about. The uncertainty that arises has the power to affect the delivery of effective services.
We who carry this load can best be accepting of the professionals’ shortcomings and grateful that the services are available at all. Their perspective is not easily changed. If there is to be a positive resolution to this still-evolving situation, it will come only from a far broader shift in our culture’s view of the mentally ill, even of those with imposing syllables in our diagnosis.
The darkest of days are past. We are out in the world. We are working. We are your neighbors and co-workers. The simple reality is that the more those in the mainstream can extend a hand of welcome and acceptance to those still on the margins, the better it will be for us all.