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Breaking down the stigma of mental illness

NEW HAVEN -- New Haven resident Vicky Molta lives her life with schizoaffective disorder, a rare mental illness affecting only about 0.3 percent of the population.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the disorder is characterized by symptoms of schizophrenia, like hallucinations or delusions, and symptoms of a mood disorder, such as depression or mania.

"I had some paranoia, maybe some delusions about myself," said Molta, as she described her symptoms leading up to her diagnosis at age 24. "It's like being in an inner war inside yourself."

Molta said her symptoms began with feelings of fear and anxiety as a child. She also grew up with a father who suffered from mental illness. She said the fear progressed into depression in college and thoughts of suicide while studying abroad.

"I just remember being in Spain and just being up in these high buildings and just wanting to jump off," said Molta.

Molta was in and out of hospitals and therapy during her teens and early twenties until doctors made the proper diagnosis.

Schizoaffective disorder is not curable, but it is treatable with medication and therapy. Molta owns her own home, has a job and has been married for more than 20 years.

She is thankful to receive support from her husband and friends, but admits that mental illness is a hard stigma to break through.

"I have relatives in Connecticut, but they never contact me or my husband," said Molta. "I think they're just afraid and they don't understand."

Molta also battled through melanoma, and noticed a marked difference in the support she received for a physical illness versus a mental one.

"They don't give you flowers," she said when describing the support for her mental illness. "They whisper about you. They don't talk about it."

Molta, who has not been hospitalized in more than 30 years, said she does not expect people to understand how she feels, but wants others to recognize that people with mental illnesses are still valuable members of society.

"Even though we have things that go on in our minds, we still have so much to offer," she said.