Breaking the Silence

Website for the American Mental Health Counselors Association's Breaking the Silence initiative to address mental health stigma.

Words Can Hurt; and Silence

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By contributing blogger Joel E. Miller

On Memorial Day, we honor those Americans that have lost their lives defending their country. We remember you and honor you.

We also need to include the young men and women who were first diagnosed with a mental illness while serving their country. Many young people sign up at 18 or 19 and there are times when symptoms don’t show up until people are in their 20’s. So, this is also for those who became disabled by a mental illness while serving.

Now, what would most of these people be called who served their country, and possibly put their lives at risk to protect and defend others?  What word best describes them? Veteran? And in some cases, hero?

Why then, when we have so many people who wore the uniform who are battling with mental health issues do we easily, carelessly, insensitively and recklessly throw around the words, crazy, insane, lunatic, schizo, manic, depressed, nut job, etc.?

Every time I log on to social media, I see these words used by people who are educated. I see them used by people who care about justice and equality. People with mental illness are truly the last group of people where it is socially acceptable to use derogatory language about their condition. It doesn’t help when a presidential candidate mocks a person with a disability.

We have seen social media wars over issues involving LGBT rights, but not once have I seen someone even stand up to the jokes that fill social media about mental illness.

Americans with mental health conditions are the most marginalized group in the county. No one deserves to be stereotyped, stigmatized, bullied, or have their life threatening condition made into a joke or saying on social media.

When those jokes are made knowing that so many veterans suffer from these illnesses, we should know, it is way past the time for compassion and change.

Silence on these issues, as well, simply serves to isolate and malign those we tend to acknowledge only twice a year — Memorial Day and Veterans’ Day.

While light has been shed on PTSD in recent years, with so many soldiers returning from theaters of war in Iraq, Afghanistan, and related areas, society is now realizing that the mental effects of war are more physically debilitating than once thought, impacting the veteran’s entire ability to re-integrate to civilian life and properly care for his or herself.

The ravages of war, then the re-traumatization of PTSD, compounded by even more trauma to the brain, psyche, and spirit by alcohol, drugs, isolation, and broken relationships require intensive mental health care and services.

So on this Memorial Day – let’s honor the fallen that have served, and dedicate and serve those who have been injured fighting for us with compassion and caring.

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