News / Health

Organization Works to Overcome Mental Health Stigma

Francine Eager (l) and Julie Herrera
Francine Eager (l) and Julie Herrera
TEXT SIZE - +
Mike O'Sullivan

Millions of Americans struggle with depression and other mental health conditions.  Experts say the stigma surrounding mental illness is the biggest obstacle that keeps people from getting treatment.  A non-profit agency is helping through its mental health centers, and recently honored community leaders who are working to overcome the stigma.

Kita Curry heads the large organization called Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services, named after an early supporter of the private agency.  Founded in 1942, the charity has 11 centers in and around Los Angeles, and employs 400 people, including social workers, counselors and therapists.  Curry says that like many of those the organization serves, she takes medication for depression.

“Now people would assume, oh no, you can not be depressed," said Curry. "You are the CEO of a big agency and you always seem to be so up and so energetic, but the truth is, I do.  And if I do not talk about it, then the stereotype once again remains that it is a shameful, embarrassing thing, a hopeless condition.”

Curry says half of Americans will experience mental illness in their lifetimes - depression, anxiety, or other psychological problems.  Some conditions are mild and others are moderate.  U.S. government statistics say one in twenty Americans has a serious disorder, and that figure does not include people with addictions.  

Those who work in the mental health field say help is available, and that part of their mission is educating the public.  The Didi Hirsch Center recently honored public figures for doing that, including actor Ed Harris and young film producers Logan and Noah Miller.  In their movie Touching Home, Logan and Noah told the story of their father, who struggled with mental illness and died homeless and alone in a jail cell.  Harris played the leading role, and the twin brother costarred in the film, as well as directing and writing it.

Another honoree was entrepreneur Jamie Masada, who founded the Hollywood comedy club The Laugh Factory.  Masada provides holiday meals for the homeless, works with underprivileged  children, and recently started a therapy program for comedians.

“They go up there, they help everybody," said Masada. "They get everybody laughing.  Laughter is a healer, heal everybody.  But everybody forget about the comedian.”

He says more than 80 comics have signed up for the therapy program.

Those who work the in the field of mental health say help is available, once a diagnosis is made, and that approaches include medication, individual therapy and group counseling.  They say the treatment must be tailored to an individual's needs.

The Didi Hirsch centers helped 70,000 people last year, including Francine Eager, who works at a center as a peer counselor.

“I suffer from depression," said Eager. "My diagnosis originally started off as manic depression because there would be times I would go wild about certain things lose control.  And then I also had a drug addiction at the time, so it kind of masked my depression.  And when it all failed and I had to crash, it woke my up and made me see that I needed some help.”

More than 30,000 people in the United States commit suicide each year, and many more try unsuccessfully to take their lives.  The Didi Hirsch Center is one of many groups that operate telephone hot lines that offer help.  

Julie Herrera has experienced those self-destructive feelings, but she says that with therapy, medication and support, she is coping with her problems at the center.

“I just felt like I was alone out there, on my own," said Herrera. "Finally, when I came here,  I got a therapist, I got on the right meds [medications] finally.  It's like a family here that I can relate to, you know?”  

Former U.S. congressman Patrick Kennedy has struggled with mental illness and addiction.  The eight-term member of Congress is the son of the late Massachusetts senator Edward Kennedy and nephew of President John Kennedy.  Today, he is an advocate for increased scientific research into brain disorders, which he says will help us better understand psychiatric problems.  Kennedy was also among those honored for their work on mental health.

“The bottom line is that every American family has a child with autism, an parent with Alzheimer's, a cousin with Parkinson's, a brother, sister with addiction, depression, it's all brain-based," said Kennedy.

Mental health advocates say there is help for those with psychological problems, just as there are effective treatments for the physically ill.  They say the challenge is helping people understand that mental health conditions are nothing to be ashamed of.

You May Like

Multimedia Anti-Keystone XL Protests Continue

Demonstrators are worried about pipeline's effect on climate change, their traditional way of life, health and safety More

Thailand's Political Power Struggle Continues

Court gave Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra until May 2 to prepare her defense over abuse of power charges but uncertainty remains over election timing More

Malaysia Plane Search Tests Limits of Ocean Mapping Technology

Expert tells VOA existing equipment’s maximum operating depth is around 6 kilometers as operation continues on ocean bed for any trace of MH370 More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Messagei
X
Penelope Poulou
April 22, 2014 5:53 PM
Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Message

Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pro-Russian Separatists Plan 'Federalization Referendum' in Eastern Ukraine

Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine say they plan to move forward next month with a referendum vote for greater autonomy, despite the Geneva agreement reached with Russia, the U.S. and Ukraine to end the political conflict. VOA's Brian Padden reports from the city of Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine.
Video

Video Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Church

On April 27, two popes - John the XXIII and John Paul II - will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky says the dual canonization is part of the current pope’s program to reconcile liberals and conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church.
Video

Video In Capturing Nature's Majesty, Film Makes Case for Its Survival

French filmmaker Luc Jacquet won worldwide acclaim for his 2005 Academy Award-winning documentary "March of the Penguins". Now Jacquet is back with a new film that takes movie-goers deep into the heart of a tropical rainforest - not only to celebrate its grandeur, but to make the case for its survival. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Boston Marathon Bittersweet for Many Runners

Monday's running of the Boston Marathon was bittersweet for many of the 36,000 participants as they finished the run that was interrupted by a double bombing last year. Many gathered along the route paid respect to the four people killed as a result of two bombings near the finish line. VOA's Carolyn Presutti returned to Boston this year to follow two runners, forever changed because of the crimes.
Video

Video International Students Learn Film Production in World's Movie Capital

Hollywood - which is part of Los Angeles - is the movie capital of the world, and many aspiring filmmakers go there in hopes of breaking into the movie business. Mike O'Sullivan reports that regional universities are also a magnet for students who hope to become producers or directors.
Video

Video Pacific Rim Trade Deal Proves Elusive

With the U.S.-led war in Iraq ended and American military involvement in Afghanistan winding down, President Barack Obama has sought to pivot the country's foreign policy focus towards Asia. One aspect of that pivot is the negotiation of a free-trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations. But as Obama leaves this week on a trip to four Asian countries he has found it very difficult to complete the trade pact. VOA's Ken Bredemeier has more from Washington.
Video

Video Autistic Adults Face Housing, Job Challenges

Many parents of children with disabilities fear for the future of their adult child. It can be difficult to find services to help adults with disabilities - physical, mental or emotional - find work or live on their own. The mother of an autistic boy set up a foundation to advocate for the estimated 1.2 million American adults with autism, a developmental disorder that causes communication difficulties and often social difficulties. VOA's Faiza Elmasry reports.
AppleAndroid