Why Mental Illness Stigma is Lethal

SEP. 07, 2016

By Danei Edelen


The first time suicide impacted me directly was when a friend of mine took his life. As a kid, he always cracked jokes and pulled pranks, and I got to watch him grow into a wonderful, dedicated man. I can still remember standing at work, wearing my green suit, when I heard the news. I was shaken for days. I wasn’t able to go to the funeral, but I wish I had. No one can ever fill the special place he had in my life.

Many years later, I learned more details related to his death. He had recently gone through a divorce, and his sister had told his parents to get him help. His parents didn’t heed her words. Likely, stigma prevented them from acknowledging the issue. I think about him often. And about his parents who are now burdened with the unfathomable weight of regret.

Mental illness—the topic no one wants to talk about. However, the silence is actually lethal. Here are the facts:

  1. The suicide rate jumped 24% from 1999 to 2014, according to an April 2016 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  2. Suicide is increasing against the backdrop of generally declining mortality, and is currently one of the leading causes of death overall and within each age group. “It is a leading cause of death and we just don’t have a handle on it,” says Matthew K. Nock, a psychology professor at Harvard and one of the country’s leading suicide researchers.
  3. The nation’s suicide rate is the highest it’s been in 30 years.
  4. Twenty-two veterans and one service member take their lives each day.
  5. “According to the CDC, each year more than 41,000 individuals take their own life. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death among adults in the U.S. and the 3rd leading cause of death among people aged 10-24.”

I have consulted with far too many teens who believe they have a mental health condition, but are afraid to get help. When they confide in me, they often tell me: “My parents don’t believe in mental illness.” Let me say that again: “My parents don’t believe in mental illness.”

Allow me to clear up any confusion: It is real. And it carries very real consequences if we do not recognize it. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among people 25-34 years of age. It is the third leading cause of death for people 15-24 years old. That is far too significant a number for us to ignore.

Due to medical advancements and an increase in societal awareness, these younger generations are just now starting conversations to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health. But before we judge our elders too harshly, we need to understand that not talking about mental illness was the cultural norm. In previous generations, doctors did not have good solutions for those who lived with a mental health condition. I had a great grandmother who had a psychotic break, but they kept her at home, and she never sought treatment.

Decades ago, cancer was a topic that was avoided too—lack of knowledge and understanding, along with an unwillingness to confront the issue prevented people from opening up. Thanks to foundations like LiveStrong, global efforts are underway to spread information to end the stigma. As a result, we now speak more openly about cancer. It’s time for society to follow suit with respect to mental health. Together, we can challenge the stigma—we can fight back.

It’s time to end the silence: our societal ignorance and fear is killing future generations. Nothing can bring back my dear friend. But I am determined not to lose another. I know what it feels like to believe you have no other option, but I am living proof that there is always another option. Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. The best thing you can do for yourself and your family is to get educated.


** A variation of this blog was first published on the Challenge the Storm website.

Danei Edelen is married, lives with her husband and son in Cincinnati, Ohio. Danei owns Instant Marketing LLC. Danei has a bachelor's degree and over 20 years in marketing. She is also a NAMI presenter for the Southwestern Ohio chapter speaking to groups of all ages to help end the stigma. Danei enjoys reading, writing, exercising, and learning about nutrition. She is also a blogger for the Challenge the Storm , the Mighty, and National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). This article was published on Challenge the Storm.


OCT, 03, 2016 06:04:47 PM
Danei Edelen
Thank you all for your feedback. As all of you know, this is a difficult problem with no easy answers. But, I will echo Richard's words, that the national momentum to discuss this issue is an all time high. I would encourage all of you to become active participants in your local NAMI chapter. Richard, I am curious if your wife has taken the Family-to-Family class and is involved in the Family support group, for example. Research shows the best way to end stigma is the know someone with a mental health condition or hear someone tell their story. As am telling mine, I encourage you to do the same. NAMI would be delighted to have you (if you are not doing so already). Thank you. #Stigmafree

SEP, 29, 2016 08:38:47 AM
It's a wonderful life, as the movie showed life is so "Wonderful" Jim Stuart did a wonderful job of revealing such a poetic movie...

SEP, 29, 2016 07:23:10 AM
Rodney Richards
The sign of stigma I find when I am open and speak about my bipolar disease, is silence. This is not to me the same as avoidance. Once talking with others, questions are asked, and I answer openly and honestly, and understanding is furthered. National efforts to spread the news about mental issues is at an all time high in my opinion, and we can continue that.
But I worry about people like my wife, the caregivers. Where's a psychologist to talk it out with them? And I've found that counseling sessions with my psychiatrist and wife together are extremely helpful in helping her understand that it is a disease that will not go away, only hide in abeyance, no matter how normal my behavior is. For, trust dissipates in these relationships for sure, but it is a two-way process, not just my responsibility, to restore it.
I'd like to see a stop to this 15 minutes of "Meds Management" BS with a psychiatrist and see all mentally ill persons, bipolar or whatever, have complete hourly sessions fully covered by insurance. To me, that's the best way of helping both the ill person and their caregiver restore normalcy.
But what do I know? I've been diagnosed since my 1st episode in 1979 and only been through 6 more since. I count myself lucky for the very normal in-between periods.

SEP, 29, 2016 07:09:22 AM
Brenda wlters
I have been very upfront with people that I suffer from PTSD, major depressive disorder and major anxiety and panic attacks. I suffer greatly every single day of my life, at least once a week I contemplate killing myself. People just don't know how bad I am, they look at me and tell me you look good so you must be good and to get over it. I can explain until I feel like I am talking to a wall. No one understands the pain I suffer.

SEP, 28, 2016 07:04:29 PM
This is so easily solved - parents who don't believe in mental illness, or vaccinations, are a lethal danger to children and should be banned from being parents and have their existing kids take away from them.

SEP, 10, 2016 09:00:20 PM
Ascribed Status
Psychiactric medicine is a teered system of coersion and control. It's effects are awful, unbridled, and far reaching into our communities. Even the quality of a psych patients life is eradicated with toxic medicines (take a look at the bottle). They're chosen effect is to eliminate patient resistance. You will find them like restraints. It is the American people who have to stand up against the erosion of their civil liberties. What happens to minority groups in this country is abhorrent. It may as well be happening to you. Don't let NAMI stand between you and your loved one, and don't be swayed against common sense interest for yourself. We are made to live in fear of the monsters we create. That one is you my friends.

SEP, 08, 2016 05:56:35 AM
Very insightful. Wonderful data, and I can only say that a few hours ago, I felt like that. Thankfully I have some tools that allowed me to recognize that..this to shall pass!

SEP, 07, 2016 03:26:14 PM
Peg Morrison
Wonderful writing. Thank you for sharing your talent with NAMI in so many ways.

Submit to the NAMI Blog

We’re always accepting submissions to the NAMI Blog! We feature the latest research, stories of recovery, ways to end stigma and strategies for living well with mental illness. Most importantly: We feature your voices.

Check out our Submission Guidelines for more information.