When my wife was first diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, we learned firsthand the devastating impact that stigmas associated with mental illness can delay seeking treatment. Alzheimer’s is a disease having very little to do with the person’s desire to NOT get it – at least as we know it today, and we all keep hoping there are things we can conclusively do to prevent it. For now, though, Alzheimer’s is a disease, not a weakness.
Unfortunately, one presidential candidate has stepped into the mental illness stigma trap, this time related to the impact of post-traumatic stress (PTS). As with Alzheimer’s, no one succumbs to the effects of PTS through their action or inaction. The brain is an organ, a body part, and it can develop challenges just like any other body part. Traumatic stress causes a reaction in the brain that we don’t yet fully understand and that reaction is not an individual weakness.
I know I could make a similar comparison for drug addiction. These problems need real investment in solutions, not government leaders who look down on those who are struggling. Isn’t it time we stop thinking people are weak, inattentive, or uncaring when they are affected by an overwhelming external or environmental force? Isn’t it time we elevated leaders who understand that mental illness or dementia are symptoms of being human, symptoms of living, and who treat these challenges with care and respect? Shouldn’t we elect leaders who don’t rush first to labels, but instead stand back and look for ways to help?