Overcoming the stigma of mental illness revealing Dark Secrets

The pain and devastation of losing someone to suicide can leave loved ones lost and confused.
Often times those battling a mental illness are blamed for their condition. As we continue our Dark Secrets series, we take a look at why experts say there's still a stigma surrounding mental health problems.

WyKisha Thomas McKinney is a survivor of suicide loss. Her brother died by suicide in 2004. She describes his death as sudden and very traumatic. Johnny Madison was 28 years old, a student and a cheerleader at Texas Southern University, when he ended his life. WyKisha and Johnny were born 5 years apart but they shared a close bond, she says, “We looked out for each other. We took care of each other.”

She explains that her brother talked about death and dying, but he was also sick, he was HIV positive. In the years following his diagnosis, WyKisha noticed a change, Johnny wasn’t eating as much, he was sleeping all the time and he was socially withdrawn. All signs of depression, that tragically resulted in suicide. It was a life changing experience, but in time, she found her path to healing by helping others.

“I can’t sit back and think that there’s someone else having that same kind of pain and not do anything,” she explained.

She became one of the founding board members of the Southeast Texas chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and took on  the Out of the Darkness Community Walk. She's now board chair of AFSP.

But the journey through grief is never easy. For those who lose a loved one by suicide, there's often a stigma attached to it. 

Dr. Renata Nero, clinical psychologist, discloses, “ There can be a stigma that it's a sign of weakness and sometimes that's communicated within families, such as well people in our family don't have those kinds of problems, or we're strong we work out our problems."

Often times the stigma surrounding mental illness can keep symptoms hidden in the shadows.
But Lauren Pursley, Training Specialist at Mental Health America, says 90% of all mental illnesses are treatable.
“A lot of times especially with young people part of the reason they don't talk about it is because they don't want to get treatment for the rest of their lives the truth is they're probably not going to be. the sooner somebody gets treatment the easier it is to treat”, she says. 

Dr. Nero confirms, “The child who knows that their parent will love them regardless of what's going on with them is the child that is more likely to communicate and communicate openly.  These are young people who can go on and lead extremely productive lives.”

Experts say the best way to decrease stigma is to practice the conversation and educate yourself and others. 

Lauren Pursely advises, “Just learning facts about mental health and having a relationship with somebody with a mental illness.”

Ms McKinney continues, “ We need to talk to our children about how we handle challenges how we deal with stress how we deal with the challenges that come in our life, so they know that mom and dad aren't perfect.”

And while her quest to heal and learn more from her brother's death has been the greatest challenge of all, WyKisha is devoted to continue teaching and helping others through her own tragic loss. 

There’s no single cause for suicide. Suicide most often occurs when stressors and health issues converge to create an experience of hopelessness and despair. Depression is the most common condition associated with suicide, and it is often undiagnosed or untreated. Conditions like depression, anxiety and substance abuse problems, especially when unaddressed, increase risk for suicide. It’s important to note that most people who actively manage their mental health conditions go on to engage in life.
Here’s a link to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s list of risk factors and warning signs.