YOUNG VOICES: It's time for a national dialogue about mental health

2012-12-31T00:00:00Z YOUNG VOICES: It's time for a national dialogue about mental healthBy C.J. Skok nwitimes.com
December 31, 2012 12:00 am  • 

A family of four silently sits in the whitewashed walls of a hospital waiting room. Everything about them would provide the quintessential American family: middle class, good kids and living a comfortable life by honest means.

Suburbia provided an affluent life that fulfilled their dreams — seemingly sweet, almost innocuous. Never did they ever conceive they would be sitting here, in such a harsh environment, fearing for the life of their son. It all started a month ago, when their son silently avoided the family at all costs and mindlessly moved through school.

Teachers, parents and fellow classmates were left aghast at what it could possibly be. Sitting in the hospital room some time later, the parents finally understood, but far, far too late.

In this age of modern health care, it is time that the United States has a conversation about mental health. I am in no way trying to attribute a cause to the horrific recent events. However, mental health remains taboo to this very day in all facets of our society.

The stigma, the fear and the refusal to acknowledge the problem all still persist when mental disorders arise. Nonetheless, with 26.2 percent of the population suffering from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year, according to National Institute of Mental Health in 2005, it is time the conversation takes place.

Whether considering anxiety, personality or eating disorders, the stigma of mental disorders has been ubiquitous for much of the past century and perhaps even longer. In high schools, in colleges, in offices and every other conceivable setting, individuals are seen in a much different light following diagnosis.

Fear envelopes, even clouds, judgment and drives away possible help from family and friends. Why is this? Perhaps it is fear of the unknown, fear of what could be. Some would even consider it to be a moral failing, an inability to control one’s emotions. However, such an assumption could not be further from the truth when describing diseases that can be life devouring and soul decimating.

If a discussion could begin concerning proper treatment — in addition to how one can best support someone suffering from these diseases — tragedies could be less common.

The state of mental health in America is dire, and its prognosis even darker if the current trend of taboo continues. There is absolutely no sense in individuals silently suffering, alone and devoid of any hope — even if it is just listening and being there or helping someone to seek assistance.

The avenues of mental health care are present. Let’s start a conversation about mental health disorders, and hopefully a happier, stigma-free culture can be achieved.

C.J. Skok, of Valparaiso, is a sophomore at Indiana University in Bloomington. The opinion expressed in this column is the writer's and not necessarily that of The Times.

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