Mental health stigma is a large contributor to blame for the lack of treatment being sought out by these adults. Mental health stigma is defined as the negative perception of a person based on prejudice and misinformation about a mental health diagnosis. These actions often lead to discrimination, social isolation, and negative attitudes towards individuals with a mental illness. As a result, patients refuse to be “labeled” and deny themselves treatment, causing a decrease in self-esteem, and possibly leading to more diagnosis as a direct result of not getting help in the beginning.
In a world where labels are an unconscious act, how do we decrease the stigma among us? It starts with healthcare professionals. It’s essential that healthcare providers break down the walls that seem to separate mental illness from other illnesses. Dr. Arthur Evans is the commissioner of Philadelphia’s Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual Disability Services and is trying to do just that. He is making a nationwide stance for providers to open their doors to treatment programs and private offices, so that people in the community become aware of the services provided. Offering free screenings, special events, and educational training to the members of a community provide the opportunity for them to be accepted as “part of the community, instead of just in the community.”
So what can you do? Educate yourself, and then educate others. Some of the most frequently diagnosed mental illnesses in the United States are major depressive disorder, anxiety disorder, and bipolar disorder. Having less interest in favorite activities, being less energetic, feeling helpless, worthless, or hopeless are all signs and symptoms of depression. You often notice changes in people, sometimes they diminish, sometimes you distance yourself from these people because it seems like they are pushing you away. In fact, it’s the opposite, these are signs people are signaling for support in the most desperate of ways.
An innovative approach that is being tested by Dr. Evans is “Mental Health First Aid.” Dr. Evans describes his one day course as a, “course that really helps the general public understand mental illness, understand or recognize when someone might be having a mental health problem and know how to support the person and/or refer the person for other help or to seek self-help.” Much like a CPR course, this one day course is aimed at giving people the knowledge and confidence to take appropriate action in the case that they see someone who is suffering from psychiatric symptoms.
If your local community doesn’t offer a class for educating about mental health, take the initiative to educate yourself through other resources such as the local health department, accredited websites/blogs, or even visit your local psychiatrist’s office and pick up some pamphlets. Overall, remember that having a diagnosis of a mental illness, versus a diagnosis of a physical illness are one in the same—a diagnosis neither patient asked for, but struggle with, yet with proper treatment both can be manageable.
- The National Alliance on Mental Illness
- Screening for Mental Health, Inc.
- The National Institute of Mental Health
- Deconstructing Stigma
- Healthy Minds Philly
- Reach Out
- Mental Health.Gov