Mental health, stigma and defeating an illness

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Thursday, January 3rd, 2013
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Harold A Maio, 75, is retired from teaching German and mental health editing, though he keeps a hand in both. Through art and German he has a lasting interest in expression, particularly in language. To him word is art, he likes to discern the meaning in word.

Harold speaks to Newry Times this week about stigma.

Harold A Maio

Some diseases are contagious. Laughter can be, one can watch as laughter swells in an audience, in waves it can travel through an audience.

So clear is the movement one can trace it, hear it as it flows. A seasoned entertainer learns to capitalize on that flow, watching silently as it builds before telling the next joke. Some become expert at long pauses, silent while audiences react. Some say a yawn is contagious, it can travel from one person to another.

Words can also be contagious, once one person has employed a word, another can follow and another and another until the source is no longer recognized, the meaning no longer felt. Shakespeare created many of the words we use, not one to malicious advantage, but words can be so directed.

Some words lead to division, some are specifically designed to divide. Sometimes religions divide, we have seen many examples of that division. Sometimes they unite. “Stigma” is one of those words that divides. How ever it is employed its purpose is to divide, diminish, establish a “them.”

Historical and discarded once popular, insisted upon uses of that term are easily recognized. Current uses may not be, can become contagious. “Stigma” is one of those words.

Do we “stigmatize” mental illnesses? I am not so sure we do. The term in that relation may be widely employed, printed, spoken, the practice is not. As part of our personal lives, we cope with mental illnesses, as we do with other illnesses, sometimes poorly, sometimes not.

We offer support to individuals and to families with a member struggling with one, and thoroughly appreciate it when someone we know, or have heard about, not only copes, but succeeds in life. When it is a celebrity, some famous individual speaking out to help us see further than caricature, we respond positively.

There is yet not enough attention given to the less famous among us, whose successes can be as great. With breast cancer we celebrate those cured, those in remission, though we know not everyone is cured, and not every cancer will go into remission, we celebrate that it happens.

Those whose cancer is cured or in remission, giving us hope, and giving hope to everyone with that disease, we celebrate. We pride ourselves in that celebrating, hoping, watching, as it leads to solutions. The celebrating is contagious, encouraging researchers to greater effort.

Let us become aware of other, albeit sometimes smaller successes, of people dealing with a mental illness, for those successes are part of our everyday life.

Those successes are in our universities, our workplaces, professional, blue and white collar, in parliament, several of whose members have come forth this week to declare their personal battles with a mental illness.

Let us celebrate those successes for they may lead us to better therapies, as those successes have done with many forms of cancer. Now that we are openly discussing these illnesses, we are learning. We are gathering information we had never before gathered. We are having successes we never noted before.

Like Winston Churchill, I battle depression, sometimes it wins, sometimes I do. Along the way, I have always succeeded professionally and personally. 40 years of marriage, yes to one woman, and hopefully another 10 years will follow. We raised two children to maturity, despite that depression.

Battling depression has not kept me from succeeding professionally, I am very lucky in that respect, as is anyone a disease has not defeated. Retired, no longer in a classroom reveling in the minds of the next generation, I now tip tap my fingers against the keys of a computer, the world at my fingertips, conversing with people in its furthest corners.

And in my tip-tapping I hear from people throughout the world, parliamentarians, professors, university presidents, editors everywhere, and just plain folks. My work is contagious, my address of language that divides is contagious, and one by one people are deciding not to divide, to recognize language that does and discard it.

Retired? I guess not, work itself is contagious.


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