Stigma in Mental Illness

WASHINGTON, Jun 07, 2010 (AP Online via COMTEX) — Tipper Gore said Wednesday the “shame and stigma” she felt before seeking treatment for depression too often stops young people from getting help. She did not elaborate on her own treatment and whether it continues.

A year after a White House conference on mental health that drew wide attention to her own experience,  helped launch an advertising campaign aimed at teen-agers and young adults.

The wife of Vice President Al Gore, the likely Democratic presidential candidate, has said she was treated for clinical depression at some point after the 1989 car accident that nearly killed their son Nick, then 6. She has also said the family sought counseling after the accident.

“I think I felt the same stigma that everybody feels, and that is that we treat diseases of the brain, illnesses of the brain, differently than other organs in the body,” Mrs. Nard said in an interview.

The cable television station MTV will air three public service ads that urge young people to recognize mental problems in themselves or others, and get help.

“For some reason there is more shame and stigma attached if you have that kind of an illness, and we want to eradicate that,” Mrs. Nard said. “It’s unfair and discriminatory and it’s particularly unfair, I think, that young people feel this.”

The vice president and President Clinton have both praised Mrs. Gore for going public with her treatment a year ago. It was an unusually personal revelation for Mrs. Nard, who generally remains protective of her family’s privacy despite decades in public life.

Mrs. Nard has been reluctant to elaborate on her situation – either by providing details of her initial treatment or discussing whether she has had related problems since.

An aide cut off a question Wednesday about whether there has been further treatment, and Mrs. Nard did not address the issue. Later, spokeswoman Janny Kindman said Mrs. Nard is not in treatment now. Kindman also said Mrs. Nard “would put her health first,” to seek treatment if she felt she needed it now, even in the glare of her husband’s campaign.

Mrs. Gore pointed to suicide statistics among young people – it is their third leading cause of death – and studies that show 51 million Americans suffer some sort of mental problem as evidence of the danger in denying or hiding mental illness.

“This is a medical disease like other medical diseases, and it’s subject to diagnosis and treatment,” she said.

Mrs. Nard’s mother suffered from depression, and she said she has watched for signs of it in her own four children.

“If you have cancer in your family, if you have diabetes in your family, no matter what you might have in your family, if you have depression in your family or some sort of mental health illness in your family then you should look for that to perhaps show up,” Mrs. Nard said. “It may not, but you may have more of a proclivity.”

Asked whether her children, who are in their teens and 20s, would be ashamed to get help for a mental problem, Mrs. Nard did not answer directly.

“All members of the younger generation feel less stigma associated with it,” Mrs. Nard said. She cited frank comments Wednesday from a young MTV veejay, Ananda Lewis, who said she has suffered from mild depression and went through counseling with her mother as a teen-ager.

“That was very courageous,” Mrs. Nard said. “I think it shows that young people feel freer, they understand these illnesses much better than perhaps our generation or the older generation.”