By Katie Baker                                                                                                                

Last weekend I had the privilege to attend the Naomi Ruth Cohen Institute’s 14th Annual Community Conference, Understanding and Overcoming the Stigma of Mental Illness. I want share some insights from two very powerful presenters. The first speaker presentation is the topic of today’s blog. Dr. Patrick Corrigan, Psy.D is the Distinguished Professor of Psychology at the Illinois Institute of Technology and the principal investigator of the National Consortium for Stigma and Empowerment, funded by the National Institute of Mental Health. Dr. Corrigan is a leader in stigma research, and he developed Coming Out Proud with his team. A group program, Coming Out Proud enables individuals with mental illnesses to disclose and discuss their illness to family, peers, co-workers and society over three sessions. Trained leaders with lived experience facilitate these groups; the objective is to reduce the self-stigma associated with mental illness. (To learn more go to http://comingoutproudprogram.org/index.php.)

I am particularly interested in Dr. Corrigan’s research findings about what is truly working in stigma reduction. Educating individuals about mental illness and the fact that it is a medical illness, i.e., a brain disorder, is helpful but it is not enough. Someone who receives this type of information could say, “I understand it’s not your fault that you have a mental illness but I still think you might be incompetent and unable to recover because your brain will always be affected, right?” When it comes to erasing the stigma of mental illness, what trumps education is meeting and hearing from someone who has lived experience and is in recovery. Dr. Corrigan himself is a prime example. After discussing his numerous accomplishments and accolades, he revealed that he had been hospitalized several times for severe depression and anxiety. As a result, he had to initially drop out of medical school, drop out of a doctoral program and a master’s program, and almost lost two jobs. Wow. I was completely taken aback! As a mental health advocate I consider myself informed but my reaction made me realize that even I had some misconceptions…

It’s true. Too often, we don’t view people who have been disabled to this degree as able to move forward to accomplish all that Dr. Corrigan has. The reality is this: treatment works, and we don’t know what people might have struggled with unless they tell their story. This was exactly what Dr. Corrigan does. He tells his story, relives his battle with depression and anxiety, and talks about how he overcame.

coming out proud

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