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Overcoming the stigma of mental illness may help some find care they need

Experts say we can all play a part in breaking the stigma around mental illness, so those living with it can feel comfortable getting help.

TOLEDO, Ohio — The death of Toledo Police Officer Brandon Stalker is shining a spotlight on mental health awareness.     

The gunman who killed 24-year-old Stalker, Christopher Harris, was shot and killed by police after he came out of a home in central Toledo firing two legally-registered guns.

Harris' mother said that her son had a hard time accepting he had mental health issues, and he always refused help. 

"He knew something was wrong. He was battling it. In his eyes, if he kept reading and studying his word. He'll get through it," Crytsal Harris said. "He started reading his word more and as he read more, demons and something started attacking him. One minute he'd be good and the next minute, he'd be all over the place."  

A big reason why people don't get the care they need is the stigma associated around mental illness, explained Scott Sylak, the executive director of the Mental Health Recovery Services Board of Lucas County (MHRSB).

He believes individuals with mental illness should be thought of no differently than people with other illnesses such as diabetes, high cholesterol or cancer. 

"Just because you are mentally ill, it doesn't mean you have a propensity for violence and in fact, research would tell us that individuals who are mentally ill, are more likely to be a victim of violence as opposed to a perpetrator," Sylak said.

National statistics suggest one in four people have mental illness, ranging from depression to Schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. 

Far more mental illnesses are effectively treated than not, and Sylak said we should celebrate those successes. 

He suggests people stop using derogatory words like "crazy" or "insane."

Things to Avoid Doing:

  • Criticizing blaming or raising your voice at them.
  • Talking too much, too rapidly, too loudly. Silence and pauses are ok.
  • Showing any form of hostility towards them.
  • Assuming things about them or their situation.
  • Being sarcastic or making jokes about their condition.
  • Patronizing them or saying anything condescending. 

"Having real conversations with the individuals about their behaviors without judgment in a helping and supportive manner I think goes a long way," Sylak said. 

If you are going through a mental health or addiction crisis, or you know someone who is, here are some helpful numbers to call: