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Out of the shadows

Street Smarts

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According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 1 in 17 Americans live with a serious mental illness. But 1 in 4 experience a mental health disorder in a given year. So why do we so often tiptoe around discussion — and even treatment — of such a common problem?

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Seth Thomas from Denver is an unemployed copywriter

How would you define mental illness? A condition that hinders you from functioning normally with other people in society.

How prevalent is it? I'd say 10 to 15 percent of the population suffers from it to some extent.

Describe the strangest person you've interacted with. I used to own a restaurant, and I had this dishwasher who was a different person every day — normal one day, off his rocker the next. I once caught him smoking something out of a light bulb.

Have you ever struggled with mental illness? Just the normal angst of youth — unemployed, not knowing what to do with my life. Sort of like at present, come to think of it.

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Marcia Curtis from the north end is a retired hair stylist

Define mental illness. Not being comfortable in your own skin.

How prevalent is it in everyday society? Not very.

Is Charlie Sheen mentally ill? No. He just went on the wrong path, as we all do.

What's the closest you've come to mental illness? I came very close at one time. I was a nomad — scattered, totally without focus or roots.

People get physically sick all the time. Why the stigma for mental illnesses? People are afraid they might see a bit of themselves in the mentally ill.

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Chris Bell of the east side is a college professor

How would you define mental illness? As an inability to function situationally. A mentally healthy person is equipped to handle situations that a mentally ill person can't.

Would you describe Charlie Sheen as being mentally ill? He's seriously around the bend. He no longer sees the world or his place in it realistically.

What's the closest you've come to mental illness? One time my father, my brother-in-law, and then my grandparents died in quick succession. I sort of checked out of the everyday data stuff for a while.

Why do we stigmatize the mentally ill? Most of us have a layman's knowledge of what a cold is, but few of us understand how nerves work, synapses fire, chemicals and endorphins interact. We don't understand what mental illness is.

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