OP-ED: Let’s begin by ending the stigma

Published 6:15 am Saturday, May 22, 2021

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

Dawn Burleigh,
General Manager/Editor

Mental Health Awareness Month was started in the United States in 1949 by the Mental Health America organization, then known as the National Association for Mental Health. Since 1949, one would think the stigma associated with mental illness or conditions would not be a prevalent as it is today. We have failed somewhere along the way in bringing awareness to the battle many face on a daily basis.

Mental health fast facts, according to National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI):

  • 20.6% of U.S. adults (51.5 million people) experienced mental illness in 2019, but only 43.8% of them received treatment.
  • 1 in 5 U.S. adults experience mental illness each year, but less than half get treatment.
  • 5.2% of U.S. adults (13.1 million people) experienced serious mental illness in 2019, but only 65.5% of them received treatment.
  • 1 in 20 U.S. adults experiences a serious mental illness each year, but less than two-thirds get treatment.
  • 16.5% of U.S. youth aged 6–17 (7.7 million people) experienced a mental health disorder in 2016, but only 50.6% of them received treatment.
  • 1 in 6 U.S. youth experience a mental health condition each year, but only half get treatment.
  • 50% of all lifetime mental illness begins by age 14, and 75% by age 24.
  • Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among people aged 10–34 and the 10th leading cause of death overall in the U.S.
  • The overall suicide rate in the U.S. has increased by 35% since 1999.

Mental illness is not just “hearing voices”, it can be much more well-known disorders such as:

It can affect a person’s thinking, perceptions, mood or behavior. Mental illness can make it difficult for someone to cope with work, relationships and other demands. Stress is known to worsen an episode of mental illness. Feeling, lost and alone while in the midst of a condition effecting every part of one’s being, it should be easier for others to be more understanding.

Sometimes it does take a person on the outside of the situation to help bring it to a person’s awareness that there may be an issue which needs to be addressed. Many of the times, counselling can help manage mental illness but sometimes medication with counselling is what it takes.

That, too, is ok.

Because the one time you thought you were all alone in this world and no one understood what you were experiencing is something we all go through at one point or another. For someone with mental illness, it is something they feel more often than not.

Each illness has its own symptoms, but common signs of mental illness in adults and adolescents can include the following:

  • Excessive worrying or fear
  • Feeling excessively sad or low
  • Confused thinking or problems concentrating and learning
  • Extreme mood changes, including uncontrollable “highs” or feelings of euphoria
  • Prolonged or strong feelings of irritability or anger
  • Avoiding friends and social activities
  • Difficulties understanding or relating to other people
  • Changes in sleeping habits or feeling tired and low energy
  • Changes in eating habits such as increased hunger or lack of appetite
  • Changes in sex drive
  • Difficulty perceiving reality (delusions or hallucinations, in which a person experiences and senses things that don’t exist in objective reality)
  • Inability to perceive changes in one’s own feelings, behavior or personality (”lack of insight” or anosognosia)
  • Overuse of substances like alcohol or drugs
  • Multiple physical ailments without obvious causes (such as headaches, stomach aches, vague and ongoing “aches and pains”)
  • Thinking about suicide
  • Inability to carry out daily activities or handle daily problems and stress
  • An intense fear of weight gain or concern with appearance

There is help.

NAMI Helpline

10 a.m. – 8 p.m. Monday – Friday

1-800-950-NAMI (6264)

Spindletop Center


Toll-Free Crisis Hotline


Samaritan Counseling Center of Southeast Texas


Let us stop the stigma and bring awareness to mental health so less people feel alone and can see there is hope.


Dawn Burleigh is general manager and editor of The Orange Leader. She can be reached at dawn.burleigh@orangeleader.com