Las Vegas Sun

April 23, 2014

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Where I Stand: Sun Youth Forum:

Eliminate the stigma about mental illnesses

About 1,000 students from high schools throughout Southern Nevada participated in the 57th annual Sun Youth Forum on Nov. 13. The students were divided into groups to discuss a variety of topics. A representative was chosen from each group to write a column about the students’ findings. Kyra Sciabica of Coronado High School writes about the issues covered by her group, Potpourri.

The Las Vegas Sun Youth Forum — where talking in class is encouraged. Students from all over Clark County converged on the Las Vegas Convention Center to discuss contemporary problems facing the world. The Potpourri topics were incredibly varied, and reaching a consensus was nearly as difficult as trying to be heard. After all, when the best and the brightest of the valley come together in one room, every student is bound to have an intriguing thought or profound comment, and when opinions are so diverse, consensus is occasionally impossible.

In our room, we discussed the legalization of marijuana, restrictions on cellphones in schools, whom we should idolize, gun control (which got quite heated), marriage rights, global warming, and the donation of stem cells from aborted fetuses. Yet the most interesting topic was: What can be done to reduce the number of mentally unstable people in society?

Our group reacted strongly to this. The wording of the question was called into question — it sounded as if the question was asking how they could be eliminated. The group agreed that the wording was poor. This also called into light the fact that there exists a stigma associated with mental illnesses. Some of our group members disliked the proposals made by the group and stated that there is most definitely a stigma. The group suggested periodic mental health checkups for all children that would continue into adulthood. A group member countered by replying that people don’t always want to know the truth.

Group members more intimately familiar with the effects of mental illnesses rebutted by saying that mental illnesses are not always easily diagnosed and that prescribing pills is not a perfect solution. The group adjusted the solution to include treatment with counseling, not drugs. The group also questioned the definition of “mentally unstable.” The group agreed that isolation is not the proper way to deal with the issue. It was also added that people with mental illnesses still contribute to society in plenty of valuable ways, and that judging someone for factors outside of their control is akin to disliking a tiger for having stripes.

The group came to a consensus that we cannot isolate these individuals, we must eliminate the stigma, and that regular checkups through life would be beneficial for mental health. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately 1 in 4 Americans suffer from a diagnosable mental illness. Prominent figures such as Winston Churchill, Theodore Roosevelt and Isaac Newton have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. John Nash, a famous mathematician, was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.

What would the world be like if these minds had been “reduced”? These people are not any less for having a psychological irregularity. Would you discriminate against a soldier who lost a limb in a war? What about a soldier with post-traumatic stress disorder? How is it any different? Why is there a stigma, when individuals with mental disorders can contribute to our society just as well as those without? Such questions have no easy answer, but our group sought one.

These questions, so relevant in our society, are problems that can be solved by our generation. By exposing teens to these ideas and questions, we can create a better society for all.

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