There is a time when a mentally ill person may realize that they need help. Symptoms worry them or others enough that they consider getting treatment. But the White House Conference on Mental Health identified stigma as the most important barrier to treatment for the mentally ill. (1) More than any other reason, stigma, or fear of the consequences of being labeled "mentally ill", prevents a person--who realizes he or she may need help--from reaching out for that help. Powerful and pervasive, the stigma of mental illness makes it hard enough for a person to personally admit that he or she has a mental illness, much less talk about it to others.
Think about what it would be like to spend most of your time alone because being around other people is just too difficult. You feel that others are judging you for your mental illness, and so you are scared to face the world. You withdraw to avoid this stigmatization. This social withdrawal is emotionally very costly. But this is a two-way street -- the mentally ill withdraw from society--society withdraws from them. An Australian survey reported that two-thirds of people affected by a mental illness feel lonely "often" or "all of the time". The research says in contrast, just 10 per cent of the general population reported feelings of loneliness.
There are many people with common neurotic anxiety disorders who continue to work despite their condition, depending on severity. However, people with more serious psychiatric disabilities such as schizophrenia or bipolar I disorder, often drop out of the workplace when their mental condition reaches a critical level. Those with such severe psychiatric disabilities usually have difficulty just trying to get through the day! Without being able to work, they often deplete their assets and must either rely on government programs for assistance, if they can qualify, or may have nowhere to live unless family or friends will take them in.
Most people are familiar with the detective who has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) appearing in the television series "Monk". OCD is an anxiety disorder that makes life difficult for 1 in 50 adults in the USA.
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