Public figures should feel comfortable talking about personal mental health issues

Emily Vernon

People struggling with mental illness need freedom. Freedom from stigma, freedom from the fear often associated with the topic and freedom from seasonality.

For this to happen, people in the public eye — such as politicians and celebrities — must speak more openly about mental health. By not talking about the subject proactively, we are essentially failing to disprove the negative stigma that the mentally ill are unreliable and inept, which limits our chances of affecting policy.

UT director of clinical training Martita Lopez wrote in an email of a study that proves the majority of mentally ill people are not violent, contrary to what many people believe.

“Leaders can help by providing more treatment resources for those with mental health diagnoses, at the same level that they provide treatment for those with other types of medical diagnoses,” Lopez wrote in an email. “Education of the public is also important. There is too much ‘blaming the victim’ when someone has a mental illness and also too much fear of those who have mental health problems, which is perpetuated by the entertainment and news media.”

Texas recently instituted a policy to help the well-being of veterans. Senate Bill 55, which passed in June of this year, allocates $20 million to funding for mental health programs for veterans and their families. This is, without a doubt, a vital piece of legislation. Nearly one in four veterans show signs of mental illness upon returning home, according to a study by JAMA Psychiatry. Texas is correctly addressing an issue that has proven an oftentimes unfortunate side effect of the atrocities of war and should be applauded for that.

However, the conversation of mental health needs to extend beyond the limits of veterans.

The issue is not unique to one group of people or one event and therefore needs to be discussed by people with a platform in broader terms. It should be discussed as any other physical illness is — health, no matter what it entails, should not be shameful. It is time for the negative connotation of mental illness to be replaced by information and support.

The UT Counseling and Mental Health Center offers various support systems to students that promote mental well-being, including counseling and other psychiatric services. This is partly funded by the state-mandated tuition students pay. This is a positive shift, and it needs to continue.

Katy Redd, assistant director for Prevention and Outreach, said the CMHC offers various informational services that extend outside the Student Services Building — such as workshops for organizations and FIGs — in an attempt to promote mental well-being.

“I think mental health is very important,” Redd said. “We think about how important our physical health is, but we often neglect our mental health.”

It is time for an unapologetic understanding of mental health. Education and awareness programs that are used for physical health should extend to mental health. Health is health, and every aspect of it needs to be given equal weight of importance and discussion.

Vernon is a PACE freshman from Houston. Follow Vernon on Twitter @_emilyvernon_