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Why We Should All Start Talking About Mental Illness

author image Jess Barron
Jess Barron is head of editorial at LIVESTRONG.COM.She has appeared on MSNBC's "The Most," ABC News Now, and XM satellite radio. Barron's writing has appeared on Wired.com, Yahoo! and Poprocks.com.
Why We Should All Start Talking About Mental Illness
More than 41,000 Americans committed suicide in 2013, and the rate of suicide has not decreased over the past two decades. Photo Credit alien185/iStock/Getty Images

Want to save lives? Start a conversation about mental health with your friends and family. This is a topic that is close to home for me. I lost my younger brother to suicide 15 years ago.

The truth is that we are all at risk of one day developing a psychological disorder.

Every year, nearly one in five Americans -- about 42.5 million American adults -- suffers from mental illness, including conditions such as depression, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, according to 2014 statistics from the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that nearly 50 percent of U.S. adults will develop at least one mental illness during their lifetime.

What's more, 41,149 Americans committed suicide in 2013, and the rate of suicide has not decreased over the past two decades. The highest risk group are white males over 60. Their suicide rate is well over twice that of the population as a whole. Suicide is the second largest cause of death in people ages 15-34. My brother was 26 when he died.

We are all at risk of one day developing a psychological disorder.
We are all at risk of one day developing a psychological disorder. Photo Credit LIVESTRONG.COM

Despite the widespread nature of mental illness nearly two-thirds of those affected do not seek treatment, according to Bring Change 2 Mind (a national nonprofit organization created by Glenn Close in 2010 after her sister Jessie was diagnosed with bipolar disorder).

The reason they don’t seek treatment is primarily the negative stigma. The fear and stigma around mental health issues often lead to inaccurate and hurtful objectification of people suffering from mental illness as dangerous and incompetent. The shame and isolation associated with this stigma prevent people from seeking the help necessary to live healthy and full lives.

Think of it this way: Imagine if you got blamed or judged negatively for having cancer. No one asks for a mental illness, so it’s not right that people react to those with mental illness differently than those suffering from a chronic medical illness.

And this is an issue that affects men even more than it does women. Bring Change 2 Mind reports that over the past 30 years the rate of suicide among men has been three to four times that of women.

And I mentioned that this topic hits close to home for me. My younger brother, James J. Barron III, who was a student in the MBA program at NYU's Stern School of Business, committed suicide 15 years ago. It was not something anyone who knew him would have expected, but it might have been preventable if anyone had started the conversation with him about mental health.

To help break this stigma about talking about depression and mental illness, members of the LIVESTRONG.COM team wrote candidly about their experiences with depression.

Bring Change 2 Mind has also created a set of videos featuring NFL All-Pro Chicago Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall (who talks about suffering from borderline personality disorder), comedian and actor Wayne Brady (who talks about suffering from depression) and musician Michael Angelakos, lead singer of indie electronica band Passion Pit (who talks about his bipolar diagnosis).

Check out their video:

Men tend to shy away from talking about their feelings because it is viewed as negative and weak. “Research shows that men can positively influence each other through group discussions about health,” Bring Change 2 Mind points out.

“Additionally, studies have found that men are less likely to report pain when they are in front of a female clinician, which points to the possibility that men may be more honest about their condition with other men.” So the hope is that guys will start conversations about mental illness with their friends.

This year the Movember Foundation is also focusing on suicide prevention, producing the below video to inspire their predominantly male audience to start talking about suicidal feelings.

According to the CDC, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, with one suicide occurring, on average, every 13 minutes. Approximately 987,950 Americans attempt suicide each year. Furthermore, an estimated 5 million Americans are survivors of a friend, family member or loved one's suicide.

Last year Facebook partnered with mental health organizations Forefront, Now Matters Now, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and Save.org to roll out a new feature aimed to aid in suicide prevention. If a Facebook friend posts something that leads you to believe he might be thinking of harming himself, you can click the little "Report Post" arrow at the top right. There, you'll be given the options to contact the friend who made the post, contact another friend for support or contact a suicide help line.

Suicide is the third leading cause of death among 15- to 24-year-olds, according to healthychildren.org. And, studies show that at least 90 percent of teens who commit suicide had a diagnosable mental health problem at the time of completion.

Bring Change 2 Mind's current #MindOurFuture campaign encourages millennials and members of GenZ to upload YouTube videos about their own mental health struggle or a time in which they reached out to a friend or loved one who was struggling. A handful of submissions will be selected to be featured in the organization's next nationally distributed Public Service Announcement.

Check out a recent #MindOurFuture video:

3 Important Things You Can Do to Help End the Stigma

1. Start a conversation with your friends and family about mental illness.

2. Make it a topic of conversation online by sharing the image above on Pinterest, Twitter and Facebook using the hashtag #StrongerThanStigma, or, post a YouTube video tagged with #MindOurFuture. See all current tweets with the hashtag #StrongerThanStigma and #MindOurFuture.

3. Check out our piece on 8 Warning Signs of Depression That You Shouldn’t Ignore to to learn how to recognize the most common symptoms of depression — whether in yourself, friends or family members — and how to get help.

What do YOU Think?

Have you talked with your friends and family about mental health? Have you or someone you know been affected by mental illness? How can we all help to remove the stigma and normalize conversations around mental health? Leave a comment below and let us know what you think.

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