Here is the full text of Dr. Jeffrey Lieberman’s talk titled “Imagine There Was No Stigma to Mental Illness”.
I know we’re only just meeting for the first time. But I’d like to ask you a question, and it’s a rather personal question.
How many of you suffer from, or know someone who suffers from, a mental illness? Well, think about it. Your family, your friends, your classmates in school, your colleagues at work.
I’ll bet that virtually everybody knows someone with a mental illness.
Now, maybe I should explain what I mean by mental illness. Commonly thought of conditions like depression, schizophrenia, bipolar, and anxiety disorders, and also intellectual disturbances like autism and learning disabilities and ADHD, and addictions to alcohol and drugs.
All of these conditions affect the same areas of the brain and disturb, by varying degrees, the mental functions of cognition, perception, and emotion regulation.
So we’re not talking about the worried well here or problems in daily living. The World Health Organization has estimated that 20% of the world’s population suffers from mental disorder at some point in their lifetime. That’s one in five people, over 70 million Americans. A billion people worldwide.
So if you do the math, everyone should know someone who suffers from a mental disorder, and the fact that many of us may think we don’t reflects three inconvenient truths: that we lack an understanding and awareness of what mental illness is, that we’re reluctant or ashamed to admit it, and that mental illness is highly stigmatized.