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Breaking the Stigma of Mental Health Issues
Submitted by the USPS Employee Assistance Program
People who find themselves challenged by a mental health issue often need support from friends, family and co-workers. Yet our society tends to hold prejudices toward those seeking mental health care. This can be damaging to people who face mental health issues and often prevents them from seeking the help they need to recover.
It is unfortunate there is a stigma or shame attached to mental health issues because so many people need help. According to NAMI (National Alliance for the Mentally Ill), one in five persons suffer from some type of diagnosable mental health issue—from depression to bipolar disorder, to eating disorders and anxiety disorders. Many never actually follow up with the help needed to manage their conditions.
Almost all mental health issues are treatable or manageable with therapies and medications. So why do people avoid seeking treatment? In many cases, it’s due to the negative stigma associated with having a mental health problem. Some may believe it is a sign of weakness, their family does not support the fact they need treatment or people use negative words to describe those with mental health issues.
Sometimes it’s because mental health problems are not always visible to the naked eye; people sometimes are not taken seriously when they believe they have a problem. Some people do not seek treatment because they think the problem will go away or willpower will cause the issue to improve. However, mental health issues rarely stop on their own.
The stigma of seeking mental health care often affixes inaccurate labels to people with common illnesses and attaches stereotypes to millions who live with emotional and mental disorders. This often stops people who suffer from medically recognized and treatable disorders from getting help or even acknowledging they have a problem. Even the term “mental disorder” has such a stigma attached to it that most immediately think, “It’s all in your head,” “You’re crazy” or, worse yet, “You’re dangerous.”
Stigma is a term used to describe disrespecting a particular group of people as unworthy due to a label. Stigma is based on faulty and false beliefs and often causes people to feel ashamed for something completely out of their control. It is showing contempt or rejection to individuals and contributes to discrimination. It can lead to family, friends and co-workers turning their backs on people facing such issues.
Stigma also can lead to suspicion, aggression, avoidance and discrimination due to fear toward people with mental illness. This stigma can lead to shame and guilt and can prevent people from obtaining the care they need.
Despite all the scientific medical research done to understand mental health disorders, the stigma continues. Despite our ever-increasing knowledge of the physical and bio-chemical nature of mental health disorders, stigma persists. Hurtful words, even said in jest, can perpetuate harmful and negative stereotypes. Myths about psychiatric conditions often stand in the way of people getting the help they need to live normal lives. People with mental health conditions, on hearing negative stereotypes and comments, sometimes will not seek the treatment they need or stop treatment they may be receiving.
We all can advocate for changing the negative stereotypes of mental health care. Here are some things you can do to help break the stigma of seeking help:
1. Learn everything possible about mental health problems. If you know someone with a mental health condition, learn all you can. If a person you love is diagnosed with a medical problem, you would research it, right? Do the same for a mental health condition.
2. Be open to talk about mental health. Often, a loved one with a mental health condition just needs to talk about it. Allow them to talk to you without judgment. Be honest if you have had battles with mental health issues. Be careful not to shame someone who is suffering. Encourage them to seek help.
3. Be aware of the language you use about mental health problems. Make sure you don’t use negative language about mental health. Avoid using words such as “insane,” “crazy” or “nuts” and avoid blaming the person for their condition. Remember that no one wants to be sick with a medical condition or a mental health condition.
4. Remember that mental illness affects one in five adults. Think of five persons you know, including yourself. Statistically, one of them is likely to have a mental health condition.
5. Know that a person is not their illness. Be careful of how you phrase things. For example, avoid saying, “Jane is depressed.” Instead, say, “Jane is facing depression.” Jane is not depression, but a human being who is facing an illness.
6. Encourage equality between physical and mental illness. If someone is sick with diabetes or cancer, we freely talk about it without judging that person. Mental health conditions often are biologically or genetically triggered, as well. People cannot control either type of illness.
7. Show compassion for those with mental conditions. People with mental health issues often are frightened or dealing with shame. Show compassion for them and allow them to maintain their dignity. Avoid talking about them if they have shared private information with you.
8. Don’t remain silent. If you hear others using derogatory language about mental health issues, don’t remain silent. Comment about what you have learned and how important it is for people who have such problems to feel accepted.
9. Encourage people you know who may be suffering from a mental health condition to get help.
10. If you are suffering, seek help for yourself; don’t wait. Most mental health issues can be treated with medications and therapy. Mental health issues are not just imaginary or due to lack of willpower. It is so important to seek help if you or a loved one is experiencing issues.
Some stress in our lives is due to personal or work pressures that can be overwhelming at times. We may be facing grief after a loss in our lives. The issues may be more severe, such as depression, eating disorders, postpartum illness and significant changes in appetite or sleep. Sometimes mental health issues can be even more severe and a person needs to be hospitalized.
Typically, treatment for mental health issues includes therapies, medical and psychiatric work-ups and, sometimes, medications. Mental health problems are treatable with the right expertise. People don’t have to suffer; help is out there. Don’t let the stigma stop you or a loved one from seeking help from a medical professional.
You can start by calling the Employee Assistance Program. Your EAP counselor will listen to your concerns and help make referrals on your insurance plan for getting the help you need. If you or a family member do not have insurance, the EAP can help you find resources in the community that work on a sliding scale to obtain the care needed to manage a mental health condition.
If a person is in imminent danger of harming themselves or someone else, it is important to call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room that can assist with emergency mental health services. Your EAP counselor can follow up with you and provide support if you are facing a mental health issue. Face-to-face or telephonic EAP counseling is available to you and your family.
More information about the EAP, the services it offers and the way it can be a resource and aid to you is only a phone call away. You also can log onto www.EAP4YOU.com. Available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, the EAP is always available to help you through a struggle, assist you as you reach a goal and encourage you to live the best life you can. Why hesitate? Give them a call today!