Mental Illness and the Stigma behind it


Velvet Wahl and Alex Negron

Mental illness diagnoses is a growing topic of the last two decades despite the negative stigma behind it. It has been highlighted by various celebrities, and affects youth all across the nation.

Celebrities like Demi Lovato open up about their personal struggles every year. Lovato deals with bipolar disorder, according to, and has since become very vocal about her struggles. Robin Williams, a well known comedic actor who starred in movies such as Mrs. Doubtfire, committed suicide due to bipolar disorder as well as depression according to Psychology Today.

But what is mental illness?

Mental illness, as defined by the American Psychiatric Association (APA), is a health condition involving changes in thinking, emotion, behavior or a combination of all three. 

Mental illness is not as rare as some may think, 19 percent of U.S. adults experience some form of mental illness while 4.1 percent have a serious mental illness according to APA. Self diagnosis does not account for the amount of people who suffer from mental illness, and a psychological evaluation is needed for a diagnosis to be correct.

Many adults that struggle with severe symptoms of mental health don’t receive help. In fact, only about 35 percent of adults do, the National Center for Health Statistics said. Mental illness affects the daily lives of adults, as well, however, not all of mental illness is developed only after full maturity.

One half of all chronic mental illness begins by the age of 14 while three quarters by the age of 24, according to the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI). Approximately 21.4 percent of youth between the ages of 13 and 18 experience a severe mental disorder at some point in puberty. Upon closer inspection, for youth between ages 8 and 15, 13 percent of them suffer from a severe mental illness.

Approximately 50 percent of students with mental ilness ages 14 and older dropout of high school, inherently making the job finding process harder for these students. Mental illnesses also impact social and behavioral functions, making it harder for them to participate in what may seem like mundane actions, like ordering food or making phone calls.

To put that into perspective, 20 percent of youth from the ages of 13 to 18 live with a mental health condition. Mental health can affect many factors in daily life, such as self esteem, self image, social interactions, coping mechanisms, and interactions in school or the workplace.

Despite the commonality of mental illness in all age groups, a strong stigma still surrounds mental illness. Many people disregard mental illnesses as “not real”, or as a weak character.

Youth with mental illnesses are affected by the stigma, impacting their ability to help themselves and how they view their own mental illness. Although it is fairly common, many people do not believe that mental health is an issue.

“The reality of mental illness in our society is that it’s still widely misunderstood. Many believe…that people who are mentally ill are making a choice to be that way,” Board Chairman Russ Pitts, said. “What’s worse, many people who suffer believe this as well.”

Pitts grew up not believing in mental illness due to the stigma behind it.

“I say that I was raised to not believe in mental illness… The whole truth is that we all have been, and continue to be influenced by a warped perception of mental illness inflicted upon us by ignorance and misunderstanding,” Pitts said. “That those who suffer…are damaged irreparably. Or, worse, that it’s simply not real. We are living in a culture and at a time when people…believe with a clear conscience that mental illness is not actually an illness.”

Despite this, there are many websites and programs to educate the population on mental health.

“That is why exists. Because people who are made to feel alone because of their suffering will only suffer more. And we can help them,” Pitts said. “We have to help them. Because it’s dangerous to go alone.”

Through a series of editorials, the staff of the Combs Courier will explore different types and aspects of mental illness.

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