As a young, idealistic psychiatrist graduating from Baylor College of Medicine in 1967, I knew we’d come a long way in our understanding of mental illness and how best to treat individuals who suffer from these disorders. At the turn of the 20th century, patients had been routinely institutionalized, often in staggeringly inhumane conditions, forgotten by families ill equipped to cope with the sometimes frightening, confusing symptoms of their loved ones. These patients were among the most marginalized, stigmatized group in America, yet they were, and remain, as deserving of attention, care and respect as any other group of individuals with chronic illness.
That was then.
In the intervening years, advances in psychiatry and neuroscience have led to breakthrough after breakthrough–from introduction of the use of effective medications to treat patients with psychiatric disorders, to the recent explosion of knowledge involving techniques such as brain imaging and genomics–all of which have had a profound impact on our ability to successfully treat mental illness. And these advances have led to a greater understanding and acceptance of people with mental illness. They’ve influenced legislation to protect the mentally ill, returned millions to whole and productive lives and established a remarkable foundation for future breakthroughs to help those who desperately need and want healing and hope.
This is now.
Much work remains to be done. Research studies show that stigma continues to block people with mental illness from seeking treatment, despite the fact that we have proven, evidence-based treatments to offer. So while academic hospitals, research universities, the government and mental health organizations continue to pursue basic and translational research and develop new treatments and therapies, we must unite to fight stigma at every turn, knowing that our efforts are critical to engaging those who need it in treatment, in hope, in life. Add your voice to the conversation about mental illness and stigma, and join us as we say NO to stigma.