We know that 90% of people who die by suicide have a diagnosable mental illness, most commonly depression. With proper treatment depression is curable.

Decades after the inhumane institutionalization of those with mental illnesses, we are still fighting the same barrier – STIGMA. Many of us walk around untreated because of stigma. Mental illnesses are still talked about in hushed tones.

Good news…there are hints that the tide is changing. Our work at Elyssa’s Mission is part of that change.

As Program Director I recently taught at a school in Oak Park to 6th, 7th and 8th grade students. My goal was to help students understand mental illness, namely depression. I was pleasantly surprised when I began to review the signs of depression a sixth-grade boy’s hand shot up and said, “I’ve been diagnosed with depression and I even had to go to the hospital. My doctor prescribed medication that made me feel a lot better!” Another girl’s hand immediately followed, “I have depression too!” Others nodded in agreement. My heart was bursting with pride for these students as it was no different then if they had told me they have asthma. These kids didn’t know to feel different or ashamed and their illness did not define them, it’s just a part of their lives. Through treatment they can go on being kids.

This experience filled me with hope that the upcoming generations will wipe out the stigma that continues to haunt mental illness. Maybe we need to take our cues from our kids and find the courage to be more open and non-judgmental about mental illness. Let’s all strive to create a world where stigma never holds someone back from receiving life-saving mental health treatment they need.

Written by Katie Mason, Program Director

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