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For Those in Charmed Lives: Help Release the Stigma of Mental Illness

“I live a charmed life … I try to honor it by reaching out to people who don’t live the life I live,” said Kim Bond, president of Mental Health Systems (MHS), at a recent LEAD San Diego IMPACT session dedicated to health and human services. I reflected back on the LEAD session recently when I received an email from a commercial tenant in my condo complex seeking solutions to the “homeless problems” in the building.

While reading the email – which noted the “problem” erodes our enjoyment of our properties and property value – I couldn’t help but feel compassion for those homeless individuals who end up sleeping in our building’s stairwells or commercial parking spaces. I took off my hat of condo owner and dutiful HOA-dues payer, and instead wore one of concerned community member, and thought back to the discussion recently facilitated through LEAD.

The LEAD session centered mainly around “behavioral health,” a term that, according to MHS, includes both mental illnesses and challenges, and substance abuse disorders – things that are common in our community. Some estimates say as many as one out of every four people suffer from some form of mental illness, which – like substance abuse – can happen on a continuum and includes everything from anxiety and post traumatic stress disorder to depression and schizophrenia.

“What does mental health issues look like?,” said James Lepanto, senor vice president, mental health division of MHS. “Hold up a mirror. That’s what it looks like. We often think of it as ‘other’ people, but it’s not. It’s us. It’s our community.”

The LEAD cohort discussed not only how behavioral health issues affect individuals and families, but also the impact to the workforce, economy and quality of life through problems such as homelessness and strains placed on our health care and incarceration systems.

So what do we do?  LEAD attendees were reminded of the words of Mahatma Gandhi: “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

Ways you can help include:

  • Get educated. Aspects of behavioral health issues are preventable and treatable.
  • Talk about behavioral health with friends, family, colleagues or others.
  • Advocate on behalf of programs that provide solutions and address behavioral health issues head on.
  • Be empathetic.
  • Volunteer your time and talent.

By doing these things, we are playing a role in the solution, and removing the stigma around mental illness. According to MHS, every day in San Diego someone commits suicide. Others who suffer from behavioral health issues sleep in our public spaces and on our streets. We can’t – and shouldn’t – ignore the issue.

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