When people question me about the individuals I work with at Pittsburgh Mercy, those who are uneducated or misinformed often ask me if I’m afraid to go to work. I tell them that I’m actually at greater risk of being harmed when I go out for the night on the town with my friends than I am at work.
As a therapist, I’ve worked with people with many different types of mental health diagnoses. I currently work with those who have psychotic disorders, severe mental health disorders whose symptoms can affect their ability to function. When someone jokes about schizophrenia equating to “multiple personalities,” I try to educate people who are misinformed. People who live with mental illness of any type are human and deserve to be treated with compassion, respect, and dignity.
The only generalization I will make about people who live with mental illness is that they can be some of the most misunderstood and mistreated people in our society. According to an article published in “Psychology Today” in February 2018, individuals with severe mental illnesses are 2.5 times more likely to be victims of violent crimes than the general population. A study cited in the same article shows that 46 percent of Americans believe those with mental illness are more dangerous than the general population.
We may not be able to change the world, but if each of us attempts to educate others who make hurtful, false assumptions about people with mental illness or other disabilities, then perhaps we can each change pieces of our small worlds. Part of breaking the stigma is normalizing mental illness.
Recent statistics report:
- 2.6 million people in the United States live with schizophrenia, a chronic brain disorder. (Source: National Institute of Mental Health)
- Major depressive disorder is the leading cause of disability for people ages 15 to 44 years. (Source: American Psychological Association)
- Approximately 40 million American adults struggle with some type of anxiety disorder. (Source: Anxiety and Depression Association of America)
One of the most beneficial and valuable gifts we can give to others is to challenge our own biases and misperceptions about mental illness – and help educate one another.
Sabrina Minyon is a therapist and team leader at a Pittsburgh Mercy residential program for adults with mental illness who need additional support to live in the community.