LETS Educational Foundation Responds to Arizona Shooting with Solutions That Address Stigma of Mental Illness

February 10, 2011

LOS ANGELES, Feb. 10, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — Let’s Erase the Stigma Educational Foundation (LETS) has been asked by media groups to respond to the recent shooting in Arizona that killed six people and injured fourteen others. We wanted to wait until after the initial shock before sharing our ideas. LETS is a youth-centered nonprofit that focuses on early education and prevention by helping young people to erase the stigma of mental illness, and today the LETS kids have urged us to respond. We write you now in hopes of creating a better tomorrow for them.

We at LETS are saddened by this tragedy in many ways: by the lives lost, the grief of victims’ families and friends, and the hurt felt by many communities. We are also concerned by the stigma of mental illness that pervades many conversations about this tragedy. While mental illness is a health condition as real as a broken arm, many people are afraid to seek mental health support due to stigma. This stigma likely kept Jared Lee Loughner from finding support years ago, and stigmatized responses to this crisis continue to make it difficult for others to talk about mental illness without fear.

Without doubt, Jared Lee Loughner’s crime last month was horribly wrong. We do not excuse his actions, but instead we ask, could this crisis have been prevented? Looking forward, is there something we can do to help before another crisis brings a wave of discussion that eventually subsides until the next big story hits the news?

As reports have examined the circumstances of the January 8 shooting and Jared Lee Loughner’s life before then, we are reminded of a story that is all-too-common: A young person begins to experience symptoms of mental illness. This young person is afraid to ask for help because of the stigma surrounding mental illness. As their symptoms become more apparent, their friends withdraw; the ill person may even experience bullying and outright rejection. This person feels isolated and ashamed as they try to cope without ever talking about their worsening illness. Help and treatment are available; but the stigma silences sufferers and makes their illness hard for others to understand. The mental illness remains ignored until crisis. The crisis can be different for everyone–such as teen suicide, bullying, eating disorders, severe depression, cutting and self-injury, substance abuse, isolation, academic failure, homelessness, or sometimes violence–and these crises are what finally directs a person to treatment, if it isn’t too late.

Jared Lee Loughner once had friends. Reports indicate that his mental illness symptoms emerged some years ago, yet he never made it into treatment or supportive environments. But is it any wonder why people are scared to talk about mental illness before a crisis finally forces action? Just consider how many responses to the Arizona tragedy use stigmatized language like “deranged,” “haunting,” “madness,” “creepy,” and even “evil.” These reactions encourage fear and secrecy, instead of open discussions that can lead a young person to say, “Hey, I think I need help.”

When someone has a heart condition, no one expects them to wait until they have a heart attack to see a doctor. They can talk with their friends and family about what they need to stay healthy. They can teach others how to respond in an emergency. And if an emergency arises, others will hurry to help. Our culture understands that a heart problem is a serious health condition that requires support as soon as possible–so why do we wait until an emergency to talk about mental health?

We are concerned that crisis-based and stigmatized reactions cannot create lasting change for people who need help for a mental illness. While signs of mental illness typically begin during adolescence, youth are afraid to reach out due to stigma. We hope to erase that stigma, and we believe that young people are the ones who have the power to erase the stigma of mental illness before it ever begins. That’s why LETS is bringing Clubs, mentorships, education, symposiums, outreach, and research opportunities to young people across the country. Youth in middle schools, high schools, universities, and community centers can participate in fun activities and stigma-free conversations about mental illness whether they have a mental illness or not. After all, education should start long before diagnosis, and people without mental illness are important members of supportive communities.

We hope to empower youth with prevention and early education by making it okay to have ongoing conversations about mental illness as any other health condition. Without stigma, someone like Jared Lee Loughner might ask for support much sooner, and friends would be eager to help. Together, let’s create solutions in every community, school, and family by empowering young people to feel safe addressing issues that matter. Without stigma they can readily ask for help and support each other–so let’s erase the stigma!

With hope,

Let’s Erase the Stigma Educational Foundation


Let’s Erase the Stigma (LETS) is a nonprofit, public-benefit organization dedicated to erasing the stigma of mental illness by funding and developing educational programs, mentoring opportunities and research possibilities designed to empower youth to change the perception of mental illness.

For more information, contact LETS at (888) 594-5387 or visit www.lets.org.

CONTACT: Steve Inch, Media Relations, LETS Educational Foundation, sinch@letserasethestigma.org, +1-208-850-7058

SOURCE LETS Educational Foundation

Source: newswire

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