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UTAH DRIVE SEEKS TO ERASE STIGMA OF MENTAL ILLNESS

The doctor told Lin Carter that his son either had a tumor or schizophrenia.

"If I were you," he said, "I'd pray for a tumor."Carter, chairman of the Valley Mental Health Advisory Council, knows about the stigma attached to mental illness: Until he understood it as an illness for which there is no blame, he didn't want people to know. If the boy had diabetes or cancer, it would have been different.

"We have to educate the public and let them know it's not `good' to be mentally ill, but it's all right. It's not anything a person has done. There's a perception that someone took drugs or alcohol or something - that it's somehow caused by the individual. Or bad parenting. It's not."

Advocates and people with mental illness have launched a campaign to "stomp out stigma" this month. They hope others will learn mental illness can happen in any family. When it does, it's not the end of the world.

Mickie Watts has had major depression since she was a teenager. She has spent two decades working to get well. The process has been complicated, she said, by media stories, movies and television.

She doesn't want her children to see "Beauty and the Beast" because the "big threat is that the father will be taken away by a wicked man who runs a `mad house,' " she said.

Her children know she was in the Utah State Hospital. She doesn't want them to have that view of it. Another movie gives the message that "if you want to be well, you can decide to be well. I want to be well. It's not that simple."

Over the years, she has seen stigma and discrimination against people with mental illness, such as the time a group of young patients with mental illness who had been swimming at a local gym were asked politely not to come back because they made other clients uncomfortable.

"They were told they were unsightly," Watts said. "People need to stop being afraid of us. We're the same as you are, except we have dysfunctions in our brain. We have hopes, dreams, everything else."

Carter's son, like most with mental illness, can be treated with medications, which have a high success rate in controlling illness. There is no cure. His son wants to find work but it's hard because of his medical history. Some believe he's incapable of work. "How are you going to know until you try?" his father asked.

In the meantime, if a crime is committed by someone with a mental illness, that fact is played up in the media. But nobody hears about the successful attorney who battles mental illness. Or the young adult who is going to college and working despite mental illness. Those stories aren't told, Carter said, although they are as real as the other stories.