By Brianna Hardman MSW, LGSW
Therapist, Children’s Services
Each year one in five Americans experience a mental health issue, despite this prevalence, seeking help continues to come with a stigma that leaves many suffering in silence. Only a portion of those who need support can find it, and while there are other reasons such as financial and transportation barriers, the shame and judgment perceived by those experiencing these challenges often leave individuals struggling behind closed doors. We all have heard words such as “crazy,” “nuts,” and “psycho” utilized colloquially to negatively describe people, situations, and circumstances related to mental illness; but do we understand where the stigma derives?
Mental health stigma can be divided into two distinct types. Social stigma is categorized by judgmental attitudes and discriminating behavior directed towards individuals with mental health challenges as a result of the psychiatric diagnosis they have been given. The second type is perceived stigma or “self-stigma” is the internalizing by the individual of their perceptions of discrimination based on mental illness. So both the attitudes of others and the perception of the individual categorize the two main types of stigma that can hinder one’s ability to seek treatment.
These stigmas are held in differing socioeconomic statuses, education levels, and across various cultures, much like mental health issues stigma can also impact anyone. Stigma embraces both attitudes and actions towards individuals with mental health issues, and the social impacts include social isolation, lack of support, quality of life, and low self-esteem. Stigma also has a detrimental effect on treatment outcomes and impedes recovery from mental health problems. Self-stigma is linked with employment success and increased social isolation. These factors alone represent significant reasons for attempting to eliminate mental health stigma and ensure that social inclusion and a supportive, welcoming environment is possible.
Decreasing stigma will, in turn, allow individuals to seek support more readily, and without fear of judgment or discrimination. The impact of early intervention in mental health challenges is clear. The earlier one seeks help, the more likely they will be of overcoming challenges. Not only does early intervention improve treatment outcomes, but can also have an impact on receiving the correct diagnosis to form a solid modality for treatment. It’s never too late to seek help, but early intervention decreases the solitude that often coincides with mental illness.
What can be done to decrease stigma? Awareness such as this month, while we educate and explore mental health needs, can help reduce that stigma and show individuals that they are not alone. Mental illness and stigma can lead to isolation, the simple notion of learning that many individuals are going through similar struggles can be enough to break that barrier and lead to seeking out treatment. For parents and other caregivers, it’s important to talk to your children about the importance of mental health and not to fear sharing if they are feeling sad, anxious, angry, or just different than their baseline. Reaching out to schools and community centers to provide education and awareness can reach a larger audience. Many mental health disorders begin to shows signs in adolescence, and learning these signs can be helpful for children and teens.
Other places of interest to provide awareness are through local health departments, doctor’s offices, and clinics. Mental and physical health often coincides, and those who are reporting physical ailments may have a level of shame or fear in sharing the mental aspects that could be impacting their daily life. As a therapist, I find it important to participate in education and awareness events so that my scope of practice reaches further than the hospital. As providers, we all share the same ethical responsibility, but it isn’t just up to professionals to provide outreach. Trainings, such as Mental Health First Aid, are occurring all over the country and offer information for any interested person to learn how to aid, intervene, and spread awareness about mental health. Reaching out to a local health department, mental and behavioral hospital or other community-based organizations can also offer ways to volunteer and contribute. If we as a society can place an emphasis on mental health care at the same capacity, we do physical health and wellness we can reach a point in which there are less and less individuals suffering in silence.
For more information about Highland-Clarksburg Hospital, visit HighlandClarksburgHospital.com or call 304-969-3100. Keep up-to-date with our activities and events by following our Facebook page: www.facebook.com/HighlandClarksburgHospital
Highland-Clarksburg Hospital (HCHI) is a private, non-profit hospital that is dedicated to providing the best care for persons with mental disorders in West Virginia, parts of Ohio, Maryland, and Pennsylvania. It has established an integrated system of high-quality behavioral health services, including mental health treatment services for Children, Adolescents’ and Forensic patients. Highland-Clarksburg Hospital is an equal opportunity provider and employer.