BERNEY WILKINSON: Mental Illness: What to Do About the Stigma of Mental Illness?

When people hear the words “mental illness,” they often react strongly. When most people think of someone with a mental illness, they think of a scene from a movie where patients walk around a dark psychiatric hospital talking to themselves while others aren’t responding because they’ve taken too much medicine.

Because of how it is portrayed in the media, the idea of mental illness has gotten a very bad reputation. Many people don’t get help for psychological problems because they are afraid of being seen as mentally ill. Because of this, we need to think about what this term means and maybe find a new way to think about it.

Technically, a mental illness is any diagnosed condition that changes the way a person feels, acts, or thinks. Of course, that is a very broad definition that includes a lot of different things. It includes very common conditions like depression and ADHD as well as very serious ones like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

One of the main reasons people don’t want to get help for their mental health is that they have a negative view of mental illness. That is, most people think that getting help for mental health means you have a mental illness. But that point of view is just not true.

Would you call someone mentally ill if they were looking for help to fix a broken relationship? If someone needs to talk to a professional after losing a loved one in an accident, would you say that person has a mental illness? If someone got help to deal with the effects of being abused as a child, would you call them mentally ill?

Most people would agree that these are good reasons to talk to a professional, but many people who are having these problems still don’t want to work with a mental health professional. Some people think they can handle it on their own, while others just don’t want to risk being seen as crazy. In either case, these people tend to struggle for a lot longer than they need to.

The way we think about mental illness and mental health needs to change. If something makes you feel, think, or act differently, it affects your mental health. It doesn’t mean you’re broken or weak, or that you might end up in one of those mental hospitals you’ve seen in movies.

But it could mean that you need to talk to a mental health professional who can help you figure out what’s bothering you and how to fix it. When we feel sick, we don’t think twice about going to the doctor. Why shouldn’t you do the same if something makes you feel bad?


Psychotherapy is something that most people only need for a short time. Many people only need to see us three or four times before they feel better and are better able to deal with whatever was making them upset. If you or someone you care about is having trouble with something that is affecting their mental health, talk to a mental health professional and get the help you need to feel healthy and happy again.

Dr Berney is a licenced psychologist with Psychological Associates of Central Florida in Lakeland. He is a national speaker and co-author of “Handbook for Raising an Emotionally Healthy Child.” “The Mental Breakdown,” a podcast by Dr Berney, is available on iTunes and YouTube. You can email Dr Berney at with any questions or ideas you have.

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