Changing the stigma

Mental illness is common.

One in five people in the U.S. experience a mental health challenge yearly, according to  the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI). In Iowa, 137,000 people deal with with serious and chronic mental illness, according to NAMI Iowa.

Urban Plains talked with four Midwesterns who were willing to dive deep into visualizing their mental illness.

Behind the Brain

Eighteen years ago when Peggy Huppert’s daughter was diagnosed with a mental illness, no one really talked about mental health.

Today, Huppert is the executive director of NAMI Iowa.

“It’s a chicken and egg situation because if you’re reluctant to talk about it, because no one else is, then they are also reluctant to talk about it.” Huppert says. “I think it is changing. I really do.”

Huppert says she has talked to many Midwesterns who have decided to bring this issue to the forefront. People are forcing politicians to talk, according to Huppert.

Pinpointing the Puzzle

Mental health can be hard to diagnose.

“The diagnosis changes because the person changes,” Huppert says. “They may exhibit different behaviors. Diagnosing mental illness is not an exact science. You can’t do an X-ray and say you have ‘X.’ No. There is still so much about the brain that we don’t know. As we learn more and more, someone who was diagnosed with something 15 years ago, it could very well be different now. Even, if the person is pretty much the same, we could know more.”

But helping mental illness is not as easy as taking pills.

“Most psychotropic drugs nowadays take four to six weeks before you know if they are going to do you any good,” Huppert says. “Then, you find out that they are not or they are actually making things worse, and you have to start all over again. You can be treated, but you will never be cured.”

Along with encountering these issues, there is always the stigma that mental illness isn’t a reality.

“There is a big social and emotional risk that parents take that it becomes known that they have a child with a serious emotional disorder,” Huppert says. “Some parents aren’t willing to take that. They are in denial. A lot of times with children it is chalked up to, ‘it’s a phase, they will grow out of it.’ It doesn’t work that way.”

Huppert says ignoring the problem doesn’t mean the issues are going away any time soon.

“It’s a universal issue and topic. It’s one that, up until recently, hasn’t been talked about,” Huppert says. “It’s an issue whose time has come.”