‘You are not alone’: Breaking the mental health stigma

MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) -- This Mental Illness Awareness Week, experts and advocates alike are raising awareness about the prevalence of mental health issues in the United States.

NAMI offers family members an educational program, Family-to-Family (MGN).

“This is not unusual. It's actually more average to have a mental health problem in your life than to not have one,” says Dr. Rob Peyton, a psychologist and behavioral analyst with SSM Health Dean Medical Group.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is the 9th leading cause of death for adults in Wisconsin. For kids under age 18, statistics are a bit more shocking.

“There aren't so many other reasons why young people die, it's actually the second leading cause of death for youth,” Dr. Peyton tells NBC15 News. “The rate is going up for everybody, but it's going up faster for youth than it's going up for other folks and we don't exactly know why."

Psychologists are puzzled by the uptick in suicide rates. Some say the numbers correlate to social media use, cyberbullying and comparing yourself to others.

While experts are still working to determine the cause of the increase, they say if you are feeling depressed or anxious you are anything but alone.

“Most people in their lives will have a period of time where they are struggling with something like this. So not only are you not alone, you're in the majority,” says Dr. Peyton.

That same message is preached by Max Blaska, a mental health advocate in southern Wisconsin. Blaska says he has struggled with mental illness and its labels for most of his life.

“Speaking about it. Talking about it. Not being ashamed about it. Just noticing that it's just part of who someone is. Nobody is OCD. Nobody is bipolar. Somebody has bipolar. Somebody's struggling with bipolar, but they have a lot to offer,” Blaska tells NBC15 News.

Blaska is now on a mission to break the mental health stigma, working with NAMI Dane County to raise funds for anti-stigma groups in our area.

He says while mental illness can be isolating, making a change and finding hope is as easy as reaching out to a friend.

“The last thing someone with a mental illness need to be feeling is that they're alone. And you're not alone,” Blaska says. “And once someone realizes there are others out there struggling with the same thing you are, it takes a huge burden off of you."

If you or someone you know is affected by mental illness, do not take the issue lightly. You can reach the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. To reach the Crisis Text Line, text HOME to 741741.