Ontiveros: No more shaming those with mental illness

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Hear me out on this one.

The conversation about mental health is like the sex talk with kids. It needs to come from the right people.

When kids don’t get “the talk” from their parents or educators, that doesn’t mean the topic of sex never comes up. Instead, the lesson comes from some kid on the playground, usually one who shares as much misinformation as fact.

Same thing with mental health. Right now every time there’s a mass shooting — and in the United States they are happening with alarming regularity right now — people immediately start assuming the gunman was mentally ill and begin describing him as “crazy.” Misinformation gets passed around on a subject we don’t openly address enough or understand well: mental health.


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In reality, those who have mental health challenges aren’t known to be violent, as some news stories finally have begun to point out. In fact, they are more likely to have violence committed against them, according to Miriam Ament.

(Let me digress for one moment: Is it so hard for us to accept the fact the shooters for the most part simply are angry, spiteful males with easy access to weapons?)

Ament’s voice is one of those I think we should be listening to when it comes to mental health. She is the president of No Shame On U, a local non-profit she founded in 2014 to bring the conversation about mental health out of the shadows.

The misinformation about mental health and violence concerns Ament too. “It exacerbates the stigma and gets more information out there that’s not true,” she says.

The West Rogers Park resident, who is now 44, knows firsthand the stigma that often accompanies any mental health challenge. More than a decade ago, she washospitalized with depression. Even some of those closest to her distanced themselves from her.

Given their reactions, it’s not surprising that episode of her life was something she decided to keep to herself. “For so long I wasn’t ready to talk about it,” she says.

During a chance meeting with Glenn Close — a vocal spokesperson for mental health issues — Ament told the actress about her hospitalization. She realized her experience was something others should hear. “If I can tell Glenn Close, I can do this,” she told herself.

Ament discovered that when she told her story, others shared theirs. “I was overwhelmed by the positive response,” she says.

With No Shame On U, Ament hopes to educate others and help erase the discomfort that often accompanies any mental health issue. During her struggle with depression, Ament was told by a good friend that they could talk only when Ament was happy.

Why? We wouldn’t shun someone with a broken arm or pneumonia. We need to accept that mental challenges are just illnesses impacting another part of the human body.

The non-profit will hold its first event on Nov. 7 at the Mayer Kaplan JCC in Skokie. Kevin Briggs will discuss “Guardian of the Golden Gate Bridge,” the book he wrote about his experiences talking people out of jumping off that San Francisco landmark while he was a California Highway Patrol officer. Ament is hoping the appearance by Briggs gets others talking about suicide, something we usually discuss only when a celebrity ends his or her life.

And that’s what No Shame On U will keep on doing: talking and explaining until we see that mental health is just another part of our well-being.

Email: sueontiveros.cst@gmail.com

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