Sticking to the Plan, May Not be the Plan: Changes in Academics and Career Paths
04/29/2019

Awareness Is the Key to Breaking the Stigma

May is mental health awareness month in America, and as this month comes to an end it got me thinking, “The awareness shouldn’t END, we should be doing this year-round!”  I feel that one reason a negative stigma exists toward mental health is due to our nation not “normalizing” it enough.  Sure, we have a month in May and a week in October, but then what?

Also, take a second to think about this: Did you even know that it was mental health awareness month? How much have you even learned about mental health this month? Did you see an advertisement or any type of marketing material that let you know about the awareness? Which drives the biggest question:

            HOW MANY PEOPLE WERE EVEN AWARE THIS MONTH’S AWARENESS HAPPENED?

Well, now that you’re caught up on what the month of May represents in the mental health world, I would like to provide some information about mental health in the United States and how (or if) the stigma has changed.  Parcesepe and Cabassa (2013) conducted a study to measure stigma against mental health in the United States in both children and adults, and they concluded that it continues to be widespread and that the public could benefit from anti-stigma interventions. Stigma amongst the public was enabled with the beliefs that individuals with mental illness are more prone to violent behaviors and would be deemed “dangerous,” and unfortunately this thought process has only increased over time enabling the stigma. When, in all actuality, Mentalhealth.gov confirms that,

“The vast majority of people with mental health problems are no more likely to be violent than anyone else. Most people with mental illness are not violent and only 3%–5% of violent acts can be attributed to individuals living with a serious mental illness. In fact, people with severe mental illnesses are over 10 times more likely to be victims of violent crime than the general population. You probably know someone with a mental health problem and don’t even realize it, because many people with mental health problems are highly active and productive members of our communities.”

In general, individuals with mental health struggles are no more likely to be violent compared to individuals without any mental health problems, but the unfortunate fact remains that the public still has the fear or notion that if someone is struggling with their mental health than it automatically means something greater is “wrong” with them.

So, how do we break the stigma?

As a society we need to stress the importance of how NORMAL it is to have mental health concerns. The CDC reported a jarring statistic that said, “47,000 Americans took their own lives in 2017, 2,000 more than was recorded in 2016,” and went on to say that American suicides are at their highest point in over 50 years, making it the leading cause of death under the age of 35 (Keller, 2018).  The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (2018) states that anxiety disorders affect about 40 million adults each year, making it one of the most common mental health illnesses in this country, and even though it is highly treatable only 36.9% of the public will receive treatment. Anxiety affects 25.1% of children, and without treatment they have a greater risk of poor school performance and higher rates in substance abuse.

These statistics show the growing tug-of-war that is between the general public and mental health treatment.  36.9% of the adult population decided to seek out treatment because they thought it was necessary, but the other 63.1% is left remaining with no treatment.  This could be in part because of the negative stigma against mental health disorders and seeking out treatment but it also includes things such as financially not being able to afford counseling, insurance companies not paying for the service, state aid coverage is not accepted everywhere, etc.  Insurance companies not covering mental health benefits (or offering very minimal coverage) is another variable that fuels the negative stigma.  If it’s normal to go to your doctor if you’re sick so that you can eventually get better, shouldn’t the same thought reign true to mental health services?

Here are some tips to help break the stigma:

  1. Openly talk about how you are feeling mentally.
    1. We do it for physical symptoms, which normalizes physical ailments, we should be doing the same for mental symptoms.
  2. Be honest about treatment.
    1. If you have ever been to a therapist or counselor and you are open to discussing this with friends, do it! You will be surprised how many people get inspired to seek out treatment once they know someone they care about has had a good experience.
  3. Be aware of the language you are using.
    1. Something we hear all the time in the Chicago area is, “This weather is SO bipolar!” And unfortunately, statements like that can come off offensive to those that actually struggle with the disorder.
  4. Take mental health days!
    1. When your employer offers sick time or vacation days we tend to take those with no question, but the negative stigma surrounding mental health has caused a struggle when calling in to take a mental health day. But you know what? We need those just as much as sick days! You will be a better person if you take some time off every now and then just to refresh yourself mentally, and in turn you will be a better employee, so take some time off every now and then!
  5. Be supportive.
    1. If someone around you tells you that they are struggling, listen. If you dismiss them they will get the cue to stop talking about it but if we are trying to break the stigma of mental health we need to let the world know that it is okay to talk about!

Mental Health America (2019) has resources on their site for the general public to help spread awareness of mental health importance.  Even though this month is over, continue to educate yourself and spread the word for the rest of the year. Let us work toward making mental health treatment as normal as physical treatment to help break the stigma. If you have any questions about seeking out treatment or would like to know more about the therapy process feel free to contact me directly at klaporte@napervillecounseling.com and I will be glad to help!

References

Anxiety and Depression Association of America. (2018). Facts and Statistics. Retrieved from https://adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics

Keller, J. (2018, December 4). The U.S. Suicide Rate is At Its Highest In a Half-Century. Retrieved from https://psmag.com/news/the-suicide-rate-is-at-its-highest-in-a-half-century

Mentalhealth.gov. (2017, August 29). Mental Health Myths and Facts. Retrieved from https://www.mentalhealth.gov/basics/mental-health-myths-facts

Parcesepe, A. M & Cabassa, L. J. (2013). Public Stigma of Mental Illness in the United States: A Systematic Literature Review. US Library of Medicine National Institutes for Health, 40 (5). doi: 10.1007/s10488-012-0430-z retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3835659/

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