Students gathered to listen to panelists at the "Stamp Out Stigma" event. photo courtesy of Taylor Ingle

Students Against Stigma — Challenging the Misconceptions of Mental Illness

Claudia Sanchez
Staff Writer

“One in four people will deal with mental illness sometime in their life,” started Carmen Lee, the founder and developer of Stamp Out Stigma. Mental illness is still a highly taboo and negative topic in our society, and despite its prevalence, “three out of four people with mental illness say that they have been stigmatized.” Stigma shows that society has yet to treat mental illness as a part of life.

The “Students Against Stigma” event, which was held on Nov. 11 in Fromm Hall, was meant to spread acceptance and discussion about mental illness. Students, particularly psychology majors, were encouraged to go to the event, which was hosted by Stamp Out Stigma, a community outreach program designed to change the negative perception of mental illness through education. The program is based on teaching the general public about mental illness through a panel of speakers, who share their stories dealing with mental illness, answer questions, and show a very personal side that deals with coping with mental illness. The panelists are meant to be of different genders, races, illnesses, and ages, which creates a deeper and more inclusive environment and shows that mental illness can affect everyone.

Lee suffers from anaclitic depression. She spent about 20 years of her adult life coming in and out of mental hospitals, which promised to cure her. Lee discussed how it is possible for people with mental illness to help others and overcome their illnesses.

In 1990, Lee started Stamp Out Stigma, after working as an air stewardess, starting a family, and founding the Local Network of Mental Health Clients. She is also a member of the California State Mental Health Council.

Lee shows that with the proper care and support, mental illness can be minimized. She encouraged students to seek out help for their mental illnesses, to talk to people they trust about it, and to accept their illness, in order to feel more comfortable with it and change the negative perception associated with their mental illness.

Greg Wild, the current board president of Stamp Out Stigma, also shared his story with mental illness at the panel.

Wild suffered from depression since he was a child. During his life he has suffered through Seasonal Affective Disorder, situational depression, and major depression. He was a successful UC graduate with an accounting firm, until a major depressive cycle in 1994, which took his job and his home from him. Wild did not have a lot of support when it came to his mental illness, and felt stigmatized for being depressed,

“I felt empathy for those suffering with mental illness, but I did not want to see myself as someone with it,” he said.

Once he started getting help from the mental health system, Wild found out that Electroconvulsive Therapy worked to aid his depression, but his situation did not improve until the next year, when he found a job and met his current wife.

Since getting the support he needed from his wife, accepting his mental illness, and becoming involved with Stamp Out Stigma, Wild feels cured from severe mental illness.

Another speaker was Michael Wilcox, who suffers from schizophrenia. Wilcox, like Wild, lost everything due to his mental illness, and wound up being homeless for a period of time.

Wilcox developed schizophrenia while he was training to join the Army. He had hallucinations, paranoia, and heard voices.  As a result, Wilcox was discharged from the army and was homeless until his parents tried to get him treatment. Since starting treatment, Wilcox’s mental illness has improved and he has learned to take charge of the illness by identifying his symptoms.

“Two thirds of living with this is learning to avoid what triggers your illness,” said Wilcox.

The “Students Stamp Out Stigma” event sought out to bring a positive outlook towards mental illness by eliminating the stigma behind it and showing people who live through this every day. The idea behind the event was to provide a face to mental illness, which could succeed in erasing the stigma, by providing a personal connection.

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