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Education key to battling stigma
of mental illness, says former First Lady
May 11, 1998

Education is the best way to deal with the stigma and lack of attention associated with mental health issues, said former First Lady Rosalynn Carter, at the University's Eighth Women's Health Update conference, Women - The Well Being, at the Sheraton Hartford Hotel, May 6.

Carter was the keynote speaker at the conference, a program founded by Cynthia Adams, professor and associate dean of allied health to address the health issues of women.

One in five people over the age of 18 will develop mental illness in a given year in the United States. Yet this serious health problem is often unrecognized and under-reported, Carter said.

"Research shows that mental illnesses are biochemical in nature and can be diagnosed and treated just as any other physical illnesses, yet many who are mentally ill do not recognize their condition or seek help because of the stigma and society's discrimination and lack of compassion," she said.

Educating the public can create awareness of research findings, dispel discrimination against people who suffer from mental illnesses, and encourage the mentally ill to seek treatment and live and function as contributing members of society, she said.

Carter observed that general physicians and nurses in the medical field often fail to diagnose a patient's mental illness and recommend treatment for it.

"The present curriculum in the field of medicine should be changed so that all physicians and nurses will be able to recognize mental illnesses in patients and send them for suitable treatment," she said.

In her book Helping Someone with Mental Illness: A Compassionate Guide for Family, Friends and Caregivers (Times Books, 1998), Carter discusses recent research on mental illness and how to be an effective, compassionate caregiver and advocate to the mentally ill people.

The former First Lady has dedicated 25 years to improving the quality of life for people with mental illness in the United States, and has received many honors and awards for her work.

Other speakers discussed the new cancer preventive drugs now under development, dietary habits and estrogen deficiency, and the lifestyle changes needed to prevent osteoporosis.

The conference, which was sponsored by the School of Allied Health and cosponsored by Pfizer Inc., the UConn Alumni Association and Cigna, also featured a humorous perspective on frequently voiced health complaints of women, by Regina Barreca, professor of English.

Usha R. Palaniswamy.