There are a lot of different kinds of stigma. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, stigma is defined as “a mark of shame or discredit”. There is still a lot of stigma attached to mental health concerns, even though it is very common for people to experience mental health conditions. In fact, one in five Americans are affected by mental health conditions according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). If people do not discuss their mental health conditions, it can further perpetuate their struggles and can lead to isolation, blame and secrecy for the individual suffering with mental health conditions instead of hope and support. Right now, less than half of the adults in the United States get the services that they need which may be due to stigma. The good news is that mental health conditions are treatable and we can change or normalize the discussion on mental health to get more people the support they need and deserve.
My hope as a practicing therapist is that talking about mental health conditions including seeing a therapist, and taking medications for mental health conditions start to become as common as talking about needing to go to your dentist for your regular checkup. If we can have regular discussions about seeing a therapist as seeing a dentist, it will decrease the stigma with mental health conditions a little at a time. A simple way to get started on this is to talk or ask those around you about their mental health self-care practices and routines, including strategies we use to relieve stress and if we go to a therapist and/or psychiatrist. Just like how we might share with your friends and family about if you have a cavity that needs to be filled. This will slowly shift the narrative and begin to normalize treatment for mental health conditions.
Another important part of normalizing mental health care is by taking the time to educate ourselves about mental health conditions and rejecting stigmatizing stereotype like they are due to someone’s personal weakness, lack of character or poor upbringing. We need to dispel these false ideas about mental health conditions as there are many factors that contribute to mental health conditions.
While it will take time to change this stigma, there seems to be a slow shift in today’s culture when you look at social media outlets like Tik Tok, Instagram and Twitter where people are opening up about their mental health conditions. This is important as reducing stigma can also help us better recognize when we or people we care about need more support. Allina Health’s Change to Chill program suggests that there are ten signs below when someone may be struggling and needs professional help.
Here are 10 signs that suggest a person who is struggling needs professional help:
1. Feeling very sad, withdrawn or unmotivated for more than two weeks.
2. Making plans or trying to harm or kill oneself.
3. Out-of-control, risk-taking behaviors.
4. Sudden overwhelming fear for no reason, sometimes with a racing heart or fast breathing.
5. Not eating, throwing up or using laxatives to lose weight, significant weight loss or weight gain.
6. Severe mood swings causing problems in relationships.
7. Excess use of drugs or alcohol.
8. Drastic changes in behavior, personality or sleeping habits.
9. Extreme difficulty in concentrating or staying still.
10. Intense worries or fears getting in the way of daily activities like hanging out with friends or going to classes.
If you or someone you know is struggling, please consider getting professional support. In the case of an emergency, dial 9-1-1 or a crisis line like the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-8255). And if you have personal experience with mental illness or addiction, please consider sharing your story with others to reduce the stigma about mental illnesses. Together, we can change the narrative on mental illnesses and connect people with hope & support.
Lindsay Doten, MSW, LGSW
Individual & Family Therapist