Mental illness affects one in four adults

Lighthouse column
By: Angela Ponivas Special to The News Messenger
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May is considered Mental Health Awareness Month. The purpose of this designation is to advance the voices of those affected by mental illness. It is estimated that one in four adults suffer from a diagnosable mental illness in any given year. Yet stigma surrounding mental illness is a major barrier that prevents individuals from seeking the treatment that they need. I was speaking to a friend of mine whose brother is bi-polar. She works in the field of mental health but feels shame about this and chooses not to share this information with others. She is not alone. The other day, I met a woman who quietly confessed that she had an adult child who is schizophrenic. She stated that schizophrenia did not show up until the child was in college and it has been so hard on the family. She stated that the family had a normal, middle-class life and the cause of schizophrenia is unknown. It was clear that this woman felt so much shame and pain about this family issue. When shame and secrets surround an issue, the opportunity for matters to improve and the opportunity to better understand an illness is slim to none. How sad it is that family members walk around carrying so much shame about themselves and about their families. People are afraid to confess that mental illness exists in their life or in their family, because of the fear that others may judge them harshly. Instead, these people should receive the same amount of compassion and care as those who suffer with cancer or any other major illness. Why is it that people quickly feel sympathy for the cancer patient or for the mother whose child has cancer and yet we lack compassion and understanding for those struggling with mental illness? And why is it assumed that mental illness is caused by a poor upbringing? The causes of mental disorders are generally complex and interact and vary according to the particular disorder and individual. Genetics, early development, trauma, drugs, disease or injury, neural/psychological mechanisms, life experiences, society and culture can all contribute to the development or progression of mental disorders. Similarly, the causes of cancer are complex. Many factors are known to increase the risk of cancer, including tobacco use, certain infections, radiation, lack of physical activity, poor diet and obesity, and environmental pollutants. Environmental pollutants can directly damage genes or combine with existing genetic faults within cells to cause the disease. However, approximately five to 10 percent of cancers are entirely hereditary. A healthy community offers resources and support for those struggling with any issue and it is our desire in Placer County to stop the stigma associated with mental illness. There should be no judgment around mental health issues because the cause is as complex as any other illness that exists. Let?s work together to de-stigmatize these issues so people can receive the help and support they need. Let?s join forces in becoming educated about the causes, realizing there is no blame or shame to be doled out. And finally, let?s be a source of encouragement that leads people to the help that is available for the asking. Lighthouse Counseling & Family Resource Center is joining forces with The Campaign for Community Wellness, a county-wide steering and advocacy group, to raise community awareness and discussion surrounding mental illness in an effort to put an end to stigma and advocate for treatment and recovery. We invite you to join us in this effort and come to a ?roundtable? meeting to hear guest speakers and presenters on the subject of mental illness. This roundtable will be held on Tuesday, May 8 at the Rocklin Community Center from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Dinner and admission will be provided at no cost. For more information, please call Lighthouse at 645-3300. Or to reserve your seat, call (530) 886-1812. Angela Ponivas, M.S.W., is the Lighthouse Counseling & Family Resource Center?s executive director. Her phone is 645-3300; address is 427 A St., Suite 400; and Web site is