Boldly breaking through the awkwardness of stigma

by | May 11, 2020 | Communications

Today on the blog, Lisa Haberbusch, MSW, LISW-S, Encompass Regional Director, shares about the importance of countering mental health stigma to help others and ourselves. As we recognize Mental Health Awareness Month, she invites us to be bold for those who are hurting.

When it comes to mental health and stigma, we are often our own worst enemies. We tell ourselves that “it’s a shame that people don’t get more help” and yet we, ourselves, often refuse help because we don’t want others to think less of us.

The reality is that when we get a call from the emergency room with news that a loved one is facing a serious health crisis, we drop what we’re doing and race to the ER to be a support. We bake a casserole for friends recovering from surgery and even send a card, but when we hear that a loved one is anxious, depressed, or considering suicide, we shrink away. While I understand it is probable that we will not find a card expressing “sorry you’re thinking of ending your life,” this should not stop us from boldly breaking through the awkwardness of stigma to walk alongside someone we know who is suffering.

Studies show that over 60% of people in the United States need mental health treatment but do not get it due to stigma-related issues (Source: Mental Help). Likewise, people wait on average 11 years to start treatment from the onset of symptoms. We must start accepting that mental health is as if not more important than physical health in some cases. In fact, the two are closely linked. People with serious mental illness have an increased risk for chronic disease, like diabetes or cancer. One in eight of all visits to U.S. emergency departments are related to mental and substance use disorders (Source: NAMI). We must be the courageous ones that refuse to believe that getting a mental health diagnosis is any different than being diagnosed with a broken arm or a myocardial infarction (the fancy term for heart attack.)

Anyone who has ever been diagnosed with cancer knows we are more than our diagnosis. There are awareness campaigns and fundraisers as far as the eye can see to fight cancer. When will the next 5K we sign up for be to raise money to eliminate schizophrenia or bipolar disorder? Treatment for these disorders have come so far in the past 50 years! Can you imagine how much better treatment could be for these disorders if money was no limit?

As we continue in Mental Health Awareness Month, I encourage all of us to find a way to help fight the humiliation and disgrace that prevents so many people from getting help. I encourage us to donate to a mental health program if we are able. I encourage us to reach out to someone we know who is struggling with mental illness. I encourage each of us to boldly reject what society tells us about mental illness and seek help ourselves. For more information about fighting mental illness stigma, please go to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) website.

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