Family services supervisor draws attention to stigma of suffering from mental illness
WILLMAR -- Carmen Clementson is an avid runner who's training for her first half-marathon of the season.
When she pulled a new pair of tennis shoes out of the box last week for the final leg of her training, she realized the shoes were the same size and style but were a slightly different color.
Holding those shoes before the Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners this week, Clementson -- a family services supervisor who oversees mental health programs -- drew the analogy of the embarrassment of wearing mismatched shoes to the stigma of mental illness. Children and adults with mental illness tie on their shoes every day and "navigate the world, knowing something about them is different," Clementson said Tuesday during a report to the County Board.
Well-meaning family members tell them to "get over it -- at least they have shoes," or tell them to cover the different color with polish or pretend they're not different after all.
"Parents of children who struggle with mental health sy-mptoms wa-nt so badly to help their child fit in, they would not have chosen to have their child wear two different shoes," said Clementson, noting that May is National Mental Health Month.
Mental illness affects nearly every family in America, she said. Yet the stigma that's associated with those who struggle with depression, bipolar disorder or other thought and mood disorders can often prevent people from seeking the help they need.
Given that mental illness is "primarily due to chemical imbalances in the brain" and requires a multidisciplinary integrated care model of medical and psychological practices, "stigma is not something we can afford to put in this already complicated mix," she said. People need to offer support instead of ridicule and assistance instead of apathy.
Clementson said a community-wide mental health walk will be held at 5 p.m. May 20 at Robbins Island as one way to promote positive mental health -- no matter what color shoes a person is wearing.