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Stigma of mental illness leaves many fearful of seeking help

Despite the large number of people who live with mental illnesses, there is still widespread misunderstanding of how mental illnesses affect an individual. In Maryland, many of us have heard unpleasant and derogatory terms used to describe people who have mental illnesses. Sadly, terms like "crazy" or "nut case" have become common language when referring to people with mental illnesses. Although the Social Security Administration and advocacy groups have taken some steps to help do away with this stigma, many people are severely affected by society's unwillingness to look deeper than outside behavior.

Poor treatment of people who have mental illnesses does more than just hurt feelings. According to a government study that was conducted a few years ago, the stigma of admitting to having a mental illness was one of the top two reasons people with mental illnesses did not seek treatment. According to the study, 40 percent of people with serious mental illnesses never got treatment.

This troubling statistic shows that something must be done to help those who have a mental disability feel empowered to seek help. By seeking help, many of these people can not only learn to manage their illness, but they may also find that they qualify for Social Security disability benefits, which can help pay for medical bills and other expenses. The second most common reason that people did not get treatment for mental illnesses was because they could not afford the necessary medical care.

Many mental illnesses fall under the qualifying conditions for Social Security disability benefits. As advocacy groups and others continue to work tirelessly to promote an understanding of mental illness in our society, hopefully the many people who do live with one will begin to feel more comfortable seeking help.

Source: CBS News, "For those with mental illness, stigma cuts deep," Jonathan LaPook, Aug. 11, 2013

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