Mental Illness: Let’s Talk about It

Janet Larson, PhD, PMHNP

Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Janet Larson recently did a presentation on “Mental Health & You” at Riverwood Healthcare Center. Below are key messages she shared.

When you think of someone with mental illness, what image pops into your mind? Is the person homeless? Does he or she look disheveled, scary? Is he or she going to commit a crime?

Unfortunately, these are common negative stereotypes surrounding mental illness frequently portrayed in the media. But 95% of homicides are committed by people not diagnosed with a mental health problem. One in four people with a severe mental illness had been a victim of crime in one year, according to a 2005 study.

Mental illnesses disrupt a person’s thinking, feelings, mood, ability to relate to others and daily functioning. Mental illnesses are biological in nature and are not related to a person’s character or intelligence; they cannot be overcome through “will power”.

Our fear of mental illness stems from our own ability to communicate with those who are mentally ill and our lack of knowledge. Don’t be afraid to talk with someone who is mentally ill.  Be nice.  Engage the person in conversation.  Ask questions that show concern.  Offer to help with an errand or giving a ride. Acknowledge the person’s courage in dealing with this illness. Separate the person from the illness.

Avoid delivering these messages: Get busy, distract yourself. Do you want to get better? Change your attitude. Stop thinking about bad stuff and start living. Snap out of it; everyone feels bad. What do you have to be depressed about? Just pray more. Why can’t you work? See more tips on how to talk with someone with a mental illness at

Seven things we can do to reduce the stigma of mental illness: Know the facts. Be aware of your attitude and behavior. Choose your words wisely. Educate others. Focus on the positive. Support people. Include everyone.

Ten things you can do for your own mental health: 1. Value yourself. 2. Take care of your body. 3. Surround yourself with good people. 4. Give yourself. 5. Learn how to deal with stress. 6. Quiet your mind. 7. Set realistic goals. 8. Break up monotony in your routine. 9. Get adequate sleep, 7-8 hours a night for most people. 10. Avoid indulging in drugs and alcohol.