/ Modified dec 21, 2012 6:22 p.m.

AZ Week: Lifting Stigma of Mental Illness

Societal perceptions can lead to treatment delays


Lifting the stigma surrounding mental illness is an important societal step in helping treat people before their lives turn for the worse, including acts of violence, mental health professionals say.

Tucson's Fund for Civility, Respect and Understanding is working to lift the stigma through a grant program that will help educate people that mental illness needs attention just as physical ailments do, fund Executive Director Jennie Grabel told Arizona Week.

Grabel said the fund has set Jan. 8 as the deadline for grant submissions from community organizations.

That will mark the second anniversary of the Tucson shooting spree in which six were killed and 13 others wounded, including U.S. Rep. Ron Barber, who in the wake of the shooting founded the Fund for Civility with his family.

The stigma leads people experiencing mental issues and their families to delay or avoid treatment, said Charles Raison, an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Arizona College of Medicine. he also spoke in an Arizona Week interview.

Raison said the two most serious forms of psychosis, bipolarism and schizophrenia, tend to emerge in people when they are in their late teens or early 20s, but there are signs ahead of time.

Self-isolation and behavior that is out of the ordinary could be signs that a psychosis is emerging, Raison said. Early and consistent treatment can help stem what quickly becomes irreversible damage.

Raison said most mentally ill people are non-violent -- "in the thousands to one ratio" -- but treatment still should be sought to give people a chance at healthy, productive lives.

Also on Arizona Week, the CEO of the Southern Arizona Mental Health Corp., said that more resources are needed for mental health treatment, both for those in crisis and those with problems identified early on.

Chuck Burbank said his organization deals with crisis situations, both with a walk-in clinic, at 2502 N. Dodge Blvd., and a mobile operation.

State budget cuts that have affected Medicaid funding have driven more people to seek help in a crisis than in an ongoing way, Burbank said.

Access a list of mental health providers here.

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