Dr. Andrew Keller, CEO of the Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute, wrote this comment to introduce Okay to Say, an initiative from the institute designed to open the conversation about mental illness as a pathway to effective treatment. Dr. Keller pointed to this startling statistic: Two-thirds of people with a diagnosable mental illness do not seek treatment.
I applaud this initiative. When you look at the prevalence of mental illness, it’s a safe bet that every person is affected in some way, either by living with mental illness themselves, or being the friend, co-worker or family member of someone who does.
As executive director of the San Antonio Clubhouse, I’ve come to know hundreds of people living with mental illness. Because of our unique recovery model that focuses on relationships, talents and meaningful work rather than on illness, I’ve had the opportunity to know our members as friends and colleagues rather than as clients or patients. This gives me a somewhat unique perspective, and what I’ve learned is this: If people with mental illness are treated with dignity and respect, as people of value who have something to contribute to their community, myths are dispelled, identities are reclaimed, and people get better. Like anyone else, people with mental illness can enjoy meaningful relationships, can live independently, and can go to school or to work — some for the first time.
Bringing mental illness out of the closet and into the light will help us to reduce societal stigma, which in turn will help people living with mental illness shed the damaging and unnecessary guilt and shame associated with it. And when that happens, people will be more likely to seek the treatment they need and deserve.
Mark Stoeltje is the executive director of the San Antonio Clubhouse, a nonprofit serving adults diagnosed with mental illness.