By Rachel Daelemans
Almost half of Americans (46.4 %) will suffer a mental illness during their lives. Over 43 million adults will experience an episode of mental illness during any given year. Only 41 percent of these individuals are estimated to have received some kind of professional treatment within the past year. What accounts for this disparity between illness and treatment? The answer is the stigma surrounding mental illness, defense mechanisms of the brain that denies participation in a healthy or happy life if left untreated. That is why we celebrate Mental Health Month every May, to bring attention to mental health issues and advocate for the same kind of patience and empathy to be shown that is shown towards those suffering physical ailments.
There are two types of stigma surrounding mental illness, public stigma and self-stigma. Public stigma is the way those with mental illness are received by their community, a prejudice that prevents acquisition of jobs, healthcare, sufficient housing, and a healthy social life. The inner stigma is decidedly more dangerous, as it feeds into mental illness and amplifies it, burying the sufferer in such shame that they might never be able to lift themselves from that abyss. When people are prejudiced towards themselves, they will deny themselves healing, explaining the lack of patients being treated each year.
Here at Therapy Café we want to aid in spreading this message, and we have a few ways you could help. The first thing you could do is allow yourself to accept that mental health is just as important as physical health and going to therapy should be viewed as going for a check-up with your primary care physician. Seeking treatment for yourself or suggesting it to others is an act of loving concern and should be presented that way. Another way to break the stigma is to simply have conversations about mental health with loved ones or strangers, whoever is comfortable. Bringing our deeper feelings, thoughts, and emotions to discussion brings us closer together as friends, families, and fellow Americans.
If you feel emboldened to participate in smashing this stigma online, feel free to take part in the National Alliance on Mental Health’s digital campaign, #NotAlone. They encourage you to share a personal story, graphic, or message throughout your online community to bring mental health to the forefront and open up discussion on social media platforms.
Mental Health America has some tips for those who simply want to implement mental health awareness into their daily life.
1. Connect with others at places you already go. This means having a conversation with a co-worker, friend, or even another child’s parent when you run into them.
2. Use shared experience as a topic of conversation. If you take the first step, someone less comfortable with the topic might feel encouraged to join in.
3. Give compliments. This is something we should do a lot more as it is. A compliment can be a shining light in the gloomiest of days.
4. Make time to be social. Everyone wants to be heard but most hesitate to initiate a conversation.
5. Connect with someone over the phone. Maybe you haven’t called your mom, sister, or friend in a while.
6. Pay attention to what other people are interested in. This can help you find common ground.
7. Organize activities. This is of course limited by COVID-19, but digital gatherings and some outdoor activities are being deemed safe as the temperature rises.
Mental health is extremely important right now, so consider reaching out to telehealth providers to receive the care you need. For more information, go to https://www.mhanational.org/mental-health-month