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Break the stigma: Seeking help for mental health.

Updated: Mar 8, 2021

The stigma attached to mental illness has made it hard to publicly promote mental health resources to those who need them most. The more people share about their own mental health discussions and continue to raise awareness to this important topic online, with friends and family and through academic research, the more normal and comfortable the topic will become.

Mental health vs mental illness.

One of the reasons why people are hesitant to seek help for their mental health issues is because they think that therapy and counseling are just for individuals who suffer from a mental illness. However, many people who experience feelings of anxiety and depression don’t have a clinical illness. Psychologists specialize in all kinds of mental health care, not just mental illnesses. Feeling overwhelmed by the world, your job, schoolwork, finances, or relationships is completely normal, and this stress is a perfectly valid reason to talk to a mental health professional. For students, especially in college, mental health issues are so common that they’re often seen as the norm. Just because you’re able to manage your stress and anxiety doesn’t mean you should have to endure it alone. You don’t have to be clinically diagnosed to make your mental health a priority in your life.

The generational gap

Younger generations have a much more accepting view of mental health care, often referring to it as #selfcare. Those born in the ’90s and early ’00s are much more vocal about going to therapy or taking medications in order to improve mental health, making the stigma around mental health and mental illnesses much less of an issue.

Among the older generations, mental health is still something that isn’t talked about enough. In fact, nearly 60 percent of older adults don’t get the help they need when they develop a mental illness. This isn’t because older generations don’t believe in mental healthcare. It’s because a high percentage of older adults don’t have access to healthcare that covers mental health services, such as Geriatric Psychiatry. There’s a general assumption that aging adults don’t have the same stresses of life as the younger adult generations, but it’s simply that they have different kinds of stresses. The only way to improve this issue is by continuing to dedicate research to this area and to raise awareness of disproportionate mental healthcare among the older generation. The faster we acknowledge there’s an issue, the faster we can find a solution.

The double stigma among minority groups

Minorities are historically underrepresented in most facets of U.S. culture, and this is unfortunately also the case when it comes to mental healthcare. For marginalized groups, they not only have to carry the mental health stigma, but they carry the stigma attached to their ethnicity. This makes seeking mental health services even more challenging. The lack of representation for minorities in healthcare makes it difficult to find a mental health professional that understands, or at the very least, is aware of cultural and racial biases and stereotypes that are harmful and could create further mental health problems for an individual. Again, being vigilant about change and continuing to educate yourself and others about the problems minorities face is the best way to improve mental health services and make them more universally accessible for all.

#Breakthestigma: What can we do?.

Many people who struggle with the symptoms of depression, anxiety or another mental illness don’t feel that they can be open with their friends or family. “Whatever we can do to help normalize these experiences will be helpful in breaking stigma,” says Dr. Dan Haycraft, MD, psychiatrist with Adventist Health St. Helena.

The other essential piece, he shares, is broader education about mental health diagnoses. Often, people don’t recognize or know the signs and symptoms of common mental illnesses like clinical depression.

“There’s a third piece to this puzzle,” adds Dr. Haycraft. “Many people have an inherent resistance to the idea of taking medication. It ties back into the idea that taking medication might mean that someone is sick or broken.” However, many patients experience significant benefits from the right medication. Research has shown that people see the most results when they stay on a prescription for at least 6-12 months or longer. In fact, Dr. Haycraft shares that the most clinically proven treatment for depression is a combination of medication and psychotherapy.

A boost in self-image

Often, people who seek out therapy and mental health help experience a transformation in their self-image. “As people start to work through a process of healing, they start to see themselves differently and no longer feel like they are broken,” Dr. Haycraft says.

“Really the bottom line is that if you are struggling, don’t hesitate to ask for help,” he concludes. “True mental health treatment is not sitting down for 10 minutes and writing a prescription; it’s an encompassing, holistic approach. My hope is that people can find the courage and encouragement to reach out, ask their questions and get help.

Overall, mental health services are as important and crucial for all to have access to as physical health clinics. It’s important we work together to make sure that every individual has access to mental health services regardless of race, class or age.
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