originally published in THE PENN

Marching 7/4 written by Lori Ferguson
Issue date: 10/4/04 Section: Opinion

While I may freely discuss my physical limitations, through my personal experience I have learned to avoid the mention of mental illness, anti-depressants or therapy.Mentioning my neuropathy is OK, for that is a physical ailment; mentioning depression is not. Mentioning my arthritis medication, Bextra, is acceptable; mention of my Prozac is not. Physical therapy for my arms and feet is tolerable, but sharing that I am seeing a psychologist isn’t “polite social conversation.”Even giving the reason for these sessions as learning pain management techniques, like self-hypnosis, doesn’t take away the taint of that “too open and honest” admission.Why is the need for doctors to treat the body acceptable but not treatment for illnesses of the mind and soul? Why are those who recognize the need to take care of their mental health ridiculed?These people should be commended and supported, not condemned and feared! At least they are aware of their problems or limitations and are seeking help for them.If someone had chest pains and didn’t call a doctor, he would be considered a fool. Alas, if the same person seeks the aid of a psychiatrist because of insomnia or increased irritability, he may be considered equally the fool.If this were a perfect world, I could wave a magic wand and change peoples’ attitudes. Not being utopia, I can only plead for a “kinder, gentler nation” that doesn’t discriminate against mental illness.I know this issue will be resolved at about the same time that racism is no longer a problem in America, but I can dream, can’t I?I’ve learned that to change the world I have to change myself first. I have begun to recognize my own prejudices regarding mental health issues, and I am trying to change my attitude into a more positive one.I am also seeking knowledge, for much of the stigma comes from fear of the unknown and misunderstood. I am trying to change my opinion of myself, telling myself that it is a good thing that I am getting help to deal with my life and no longer calling myself a “loser” because I need assistance to cope.I am trying to be more tolerant and supportive of others who are also seeking help, instead of fearing them because they aren’t “normal” any more.I beg of you: please, if you or someone you know needs the help of a professional with their mental health, encourage and support them!If you don’t understand something, like a diagnosis or a prescribed medication, research the subject until you find some clarity.Choose your mental health care provider as carefully as you would the mechanic for your car.Be a well informed consumer.And also, get a complete physical from your family physician, for some symptoms for serious physical illnesses first manifest through psychological symptoms.I must bid you adieu. Elavil, the anti-depressant I take at night to help me sleep, despite the pain, has kicked in.Peace be with you!