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Overcoming the Stigma and Getting the Help We Need
Submitted by the USPS Employee Assistance Program
What do you think when you hear the term “mental illness?” How about “mental health?” Does the first create a negative feeling or a stigma and the latter a sense of well-being? Do we often interchange these terms?
Words and language are powerful and can evoke different feelings when used in communication. Due to the negative connotation or stigma often associated with mental illness, people sometimes are reluctant to get the help they need.
Some people feel they may be labeled if they ask for help and don’t want to be associated with a preconceived notion regarding mental illness. People are much more open to talking about how they can improve their mental health or take better care of themselves emotionally.
A stigma is a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality or person. A stigma may be a social value impacting how we perceive others or it can be self-inflicted, causing people to experience shame and negativity about themselves. When we hear someone is dealing with mental illness, we may view them as dangerous, unapproachable, unfriendly or uncomfortable to be around. If we personally are experiencing symptoms of mental illness, we may be reluctant to get the help we need or not fully explore all treatment options.
Stigmas often are perpetuated when we casually use terms or phrases such as:
These types of statements or phrases often are influenced by culture, social media and our peers. Their use is based on a lack of knowledge and understanding what people dealing with mental illness experience. When we use terms or phrases such as those listed above, we lessen the seriousness of them or dismiss people who are actively experiencing mental health concerns.
Because stigma around mental illness can prevent people from seeking treatment and impact how we view people with mental illness, it is important to find ways of overcoming these stigmas. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in five adults experience mental illness each year and as many as one in six youths, ages 6-17. With these numbers, we all likely know someone who is struggling with mental health issues.
Suicide is the second leading cause of death among people ages 10-34 and has increased by 31% since 2001. Depression is the most common condition reported and is the leading cause of disability worldwide. It is reported that fewer than half of people with symptoms seek treatment. Depression and mood disorders are the most common cause of hospitalization for those under 45.
When we think of mental health, we tend to view it in a more positive way and think of ways to improve it because everyone has some level of “mental health.” Common symptoms people experience dealing with mental health are often the same symptoms we see in mental illness. These can range from a sense of anxiety, depressive symptoms, insomnia, change in eating patterns, grief or change in our behaviors.
While these symptoms may not be severe enough to diagnose someone with a mental disorder, they often cause some level of impairment or even physical symptoms. These include headaches, upset stomach, irritability, a racing heartbeat, low motivation or excessive feelings of being tired.
We can combat stigmas and stereotypes by looking at mental health the same way we do our physical health—by becoming educated and encouraging others to seek help if they are showing signs of mental health issues. There are steps we can take to recognize the importance of maintaining our mental health, support those with true chronic mental illness and recognize those who are experiencing symptoms that may turn into a chronic condition if they are not treated immediately or effectively. Some things we can consider include:
These steps are only a few that can help reduce the barriers between those experiencing mental health issues and getting appropriate treatment and support. People need to know they are not alone so they do not isolate themselves due to feeling ashamed and hopeless about their situations
It also is recommended to determine whether your health concerns are mental or physical as sometimes they can look the same. Acknowledging your own mental health and taking steps to improve it will be important. There are a lot of resources online that speak to positivity, self-care and how to stay on top of your physical health in order to decrease further potential for a mental health decline.
There are memes, blogs, podcasts/video talks, support networks, interest groups (local and online), seminars and classes that can help someone be aware of and improve their mental health. Reducing the stigma for those with mental health issues can happen merely by not making things worse with negative comments, which is one of the sole causes of perpetuating a stigma.
For more information on mental health, mental illness or stigma, please call the EAP at 800-327-4968 (800-EAP-4YOU) TTY: 877-492-7341. Your EAP can be a great starting place for getting the help you need. With counseling and life coaching, you can set goals and begin to make positive changes in your life. Additional resources and information also are available on the USPS EAP website at EAP4YOU.com.