May is National Mental Health Awareness Month. This year the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI) is asking everyone to take the pledge to stop the stigma surrounding Mental Illness. You can do that officially here: Stigma Free. (#stigmafree)
I think the stigma around mental illness has gotten better over the years, but there is a long way to go. I saw this great article talking about phrases you shouldn’t say, I think it’s worth the check out. 9 Phrases You Shouldn’t Say During Mental Health Awareness Month.
Here, I want to talk about how differently we treat and think about people with mental illness compared to other illnesses. For example cancer. Why cancer? Because you’d never make fun of someone who has it, you’d never blame them for having it, if the treatment doesn’t work you’d never say they aren’t doing enough, and you’d treat them with respect and compassion. It is wrong to treat a person with a mental illness differently than you would treat a person with cancer.
A few facts you may not know.
Think about that, when you meet 5 people, chances are one of them has a diagnosable mental illness. That’s huge!
There are many reasons someone may not get help, one of them is the stigma behind mental illness. Because of the stigma, they are afraid of how people may react, they are afraid they may lose their jobs, respect from others…. This barrier for treatment has to stop. People cannot feel embarrassed to go for help. They cannot be made to feel they need to tough it out, to pull themselves together, to stop being so dramatic….. We need to acknowledge when someone is having difficulty and let them know you support them. We must also realize that, just like people with cancer, people with a mental illness may not realize it, they may be afraid of the diagnosis, they may not want to face it… If we noticed someone we care about feeling or looking sick a lot we would encourage them to see a doctor. We need to do the same when we see someone who we care about struggling with mental illness. We need to let everyone know they are cared about and supported.
There are many reasons why people do not get help that have nothing to do with not wanting it or searching for it. Often people do not get the care they need because they simply can’t get it. They don’t have insurance. They can’t afford it, even with their insurance. (there are a lot of barriers within the insurance system that keep people from having access to health care, I could write a whole post on just this crisis). We often think there are public places people can go, “the mental health system will help”. This is far from true. There are a lot of hoops one has to go through to get be seen by someone in the system. Often someone with a mental health issue gets way too overwhelmed to be able to do all of this. Even when someone is in dire need of help they often have to wait months to see a professional through the mental health system. Unless a person is “a threat to themselves or others”, it is almost impossible to get in to the mental health system in a timely manner.
These barriers are signs of stigma within the system. Many people need and want help, but can’t get it because of the barriers. We have to break down these barriers. We must break down the stigma that people with mental health deserve less then people who have any other type of illness.
Please take the time to take the pledge to stay Stigma Free.
Read more about Mental Health Awareness Month and find more ways to contribute through the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).