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The Stigma Enigma

 Before we talk about the different issues related to mental health in parents, children, and teens, I wanted to address the stigma that plagues this topic. With 18% of U.S. adults and over 20% of children (Nat’l Institute of Mental Health) living with a mental illness, it’s crucial that we normalize these issues so that those afflicted will be more likely to ask for and receive the help they need. When you think about it, that’s 1 in 5 children who will have a mental disorder at some point during their lifetime – making these disorders extremely common and in dire need to be addressed as early as possible.

If mental illness is so prevalent, why is it that we can joke about being depressed, having OCD, or being neurotic and yet this lightheartedness is almost never applied to diabetes, or another more “measurable” disease? Some wonder if this inclination to trivialize and stigmatize mental illness is about the perceived ability to control these disorders at will (versus not being able to control cancer, for example.) Society often supports the idea that depression or anxiety can be overcome if the afflicted individual snaps out of it, prays more, or simply chooses to be happy.  But the truth is that much like a person can’t will away their Parkinson’s disease, depression and other mental illnesses are also not able to be controlled at will.

Another reason for this prevalent stigma includes the thought that people with mental disease are violent – an idea that is further spread by the news and media. However, research has indicated that mentally ill individuals are not only a small section of those that commit violent crimes, but are actually more likely to be victims of violence themselves. 

Perhaps we can begin to dispel some of this stigma with the realization that everyone has 2 sides to their overall well-being: 1. physical health, and 2. mental health. Just as our physical health is disrupted by environmental, genetic, and social factors, our mental health is equally impacted by these and can be negatively affected. And thus, if both cardiovascular disease and depression affect our goal of being healthy, does it not follow that both should be given the respect and attention they require?

You may be wondering what you can do to chip away at this stigma. One practical solution we can all begin to incorporate is to access mental health counseling in our routine doctor visits. When we check for mental diseases and physical diseases at once, we’ll be more likely to get help if we need it and realize the importance of addressing all key aspects of our well-being. Another step in combating stigma is to simply talk to those around you who have a mental illness. This can vastly help in our own education and to dispel negative stereotypes that often portray the person as their disease, instead of the complex individual that they are.

When we can begin to do these things, we’ll be better able to seek the help that our children (or selves) need if they are faced with a mental health issue – without hesitating due to perceived shame.  There is hope for stigma-free access to mental health care – join us in taking steps to achieve it!

*The information on this site is provided as an information resource only, and is not to be used or relied on for any diagnostic or treatment purposes.  This information is not intended to be patient education, does not create any patient-provider relationship, and should not be used as a substitute for professional diagnosis and treatment.  Please consult your healthcare provider before making any diet or treatment decisions.
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