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Stigma and Mental Illness

In all the years we’ve worked in the mental health arena, perhaps the most hurtful of all experiences is to witness the stigma and prejudice against those with genetic or neurobiological disorders of the brain.  Mood disorders resulting from chemical imbalances in the brain are not something a person would choose; they are most often the result of genetics, trauma, biological abnormalities, or social environmental factors.  

It is true, however, that we may witness or experience very painful, embarrassing, even frightening symptoms of these brain diseases.  Symptoms or behaviors generated by these illnesses may be unappreciated, or even unacceptable, however the person underneath the symptoms is still a fine, good, and deserving person, a person to be treated with respect.

A good friend stands by us if we are covered by the red blotches of chicken pox, or bleeding profusely from an accident, or writhing in pain from a kidney stone, or needing a hat because of cancer treatments.  A good friend will be there, too, should the symptoms of a biological abnormality become overwhelming.  It is okay to love the person, and hate the illness.  Mental illnesses are just that, illnesses, with symptoms.