Fighting the Stigma Around Mental Illness
What are you doing to stop the stigma surrounding mental illnesses?
Mental illness is more common than people think. According to data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration, every year, about 43.6 million Americans suffer from some form of mental illness.1 Of these millions of people affected by mental illness, only about half receive treatment. Why is that? According to Margarita Tartakovsky, MS, Associate Editor of Psych Central, one of the biggest reasons is the stigma behind being diagnosed with a mental illness.
In media and film, people with mental illnesses are characterized as being “crazy” and having “multiple personalities,” however, people need to realize that these patients are regular people who have chemical imbalances in their brains and need treatment, just like diabetics need medications to regulate their blood sugars.
According to clinical psychologist Nikki Massey-Hastings, PsyD, "Many people feel embarrassed or ashamed of their symptoms because our society places illogical taboos on mental health issues over physical conditions."
Lena Dunham, an actress for the show “Girls,” has lived with anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) for most of her life. She and other people in the public eye whom are mental health advocates have been working to combat this stigma. As she states in a recent Instagram post:
“Lately I've been noticing that nearly every pop cultural image we see of a woman on psychiatric medication is that of an out-of-control, exhausting, and exhausted girl who needs help. But guess what? Most women on meds are women who have been brave enough to help themselves. It's important that we see normalizing portrayals of people, women, choosing to take action when it comes to their mental health. Meds didn't make me a hollowed out version of my former self or a messy bar patron with a bad bleach job. They allowed to really meet myself. I wish that for every lady who has ever struggled. There's really no shame.”
Dr. Deborah Serani, another clinical psychologist and author of Living with Depression, has struggled with depression. She dispels the stigma of mental illness by teaching her patients that "mental illness is a combination of neurobiology and psychological influences, not a weakness of character." She also demonstrates that "with proper diagnosis and treatment that (she) live(s) with depression successfully and (has) a meaningful life."
Health professionals, including pharmacists, need to be vigilant about dispelling the myths regarding mental illness and encourage those with mental health issues to seek the proper help and treatment that they need. People are more apt to share that they have high blood pressure, diabetes, or even cancer than they are to share that they are bipolar or schizophrenic. We need to reassure these patients that mental illness is just like any other physical illness, and it’s okay to seek help and take medications for these issues.
1. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration. Behavioral Health Trends in the United States: Results from the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. SAMHSA website. 2014; https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/NSDUH-FRR1-2014/NSDUH-FRR1-2014.pdf. Accessed February 21, 2017.