Mental health has become more prominent than ever for both adults and children, so why is there still stigma? Many adults are nervous to seek help or afraid to admit they need it. Why is this still the case, when the number of those affected with mental illness continues to increase?
Approximately one in five adults in the United States — or more than 46 million — experiences mental illness in a given year, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, or NAMI. Unfortunately, only 41% of this group receives mental health services.
There is even more disconnect within certain minority groups. Many black, Hispanic and Asian adults living with mental health conditions are not seeking support services. According to NAMI, blacks and Hispanics seek services at half the rate of their white counterparts, while Asians seek those services at one-third of the rate of whites.
This could be due to multiple factors, including a mistrust of the health care system based on historical experiences, concerns about discrimination from health care providers of different races or the notion that discussing or getting help for mental health issues is taboo. Some cultures believe mental health issues can’t be recognized as “real” and are linked to spiritual conflicts.
Overcoming the stigma surrounding mental health starts with understanding what mental health stigma truly means — it is a collection of widely-held negative beliefs about people with mental illnesses, not based on facts but personal, subjective views. How do these views develop? By what people see in outlets like the media, movies or television shows. The media very rarely depicts people with mental health disorders in a positive light. They are often portrayed as dangerous, violent and unpredictable.
Not only do others judge those with mental health issues, but self-stigma around mental health also exists. Some individuals may believe their condition is a sign of weakness or a punishment, so they tend to think they don’t deserve or won’t ever be able to live a fulfilling life. They may be too scared to seek mental health treatment, as they assume others will judge them or relate it to their ability to work or succeed in other activities. Others may fear that their health insurance or life insurance may be negatively affected by seeking treatment.
How can we overcome stigma? By taking a few of the following steps:
- Educate the public with accurate information through media, churches, schools, etc.
- Be aware of your biases and misconceptions, and learn the facts. Help educate others about the importance of treating people with mental health conditions equally and fairly.
- If you have symptoms, seek help. Talk about what’s going on, and don’t isolate yourself. Get help from others who can offer support.
- Be aware of the language that you use — mental illness is not an adjective that describes someone or yourself (I am bipolar, or she is a schizophrenic) but rather it is a medical condition (a person with bipolar disorder or schizophrenia).
- Support efforts for mental health parity in legislature — equal access and equal coverage of benefits for mental health conditions.
- Support the efforts of NAMI, Mental Health America and other agencies that are trying to erase stigma by volunteering time or donating money; get involved!
- Be aware of local and national mental health resources like the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
Each action is a step in the right direction toward supporting those with mental health issues. To schedule an appointment with UF Health Psychiatry – Jacksonville, please visit UFHealthJax.org/psychiatry or call 904-244-0411.