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May 29, 2019

The Stigma of Mental Health Illness

Written by: Sharon McGee, MSW, LCSW


May is National Mental Health Awareness Month. One of the biggest issues facing people with a mental illness is the stigma they face at the thought of being diagnosed. This fear often keeps people from seeking treatment. People have many misconceptions about mental illness and often are afraid of being “labeled.” The truth about mental illness is about 16 million Americans were diagnosed with a Major Depressive Episode within the last year and 42 million have problems with Anxiety. One quarter of mental illness begins by the age of 14 and three-quarters by the age of 24. (NAMI, 2019).

The reality of mental illness is these conditions can interfere with daily life and functioning. They impact our ability to be present in our lives with our friends and family. These illnesses can rob us of the joyful parts of life and our ability to deal with stress effectively. However, this does not have to be the case. Living with mental illness can be a struggle, but there is hope for treatment. There are different treatments for most major mental health issues that are successful and can help people to return to a life that they enjoy. Determining what kind of treatment to pursue, Such as choosing between medication and therapy, is a personal decision between you, your doctor and therapist. It is best to have a team of people, including friends and family that can work together to assist you in reaching your identified treatment goal.

The point is you do not have to continue to suffer alone. Having a mental illness is no different than having another medical condition for which you would go to the doctor. We get sick with an illness and we go to the doctor to get treatment. Mental health should be considered the same way. Instead, we act like mental health is an individual weakness or character flaw, which could not be further from the truth. It can be difficult to recognize when we are struggling with mental health. We often minimize the way we are feeling as “having the blues,” or “I am just stressed.” Knowing and recognizing the signs of mental health symptoms is important in treatment. If you are worried about your symptoms or do not understand what you are going through, talk to your primary care provider for further guidance.

Please do not hesitate to reach out for help if you are struggling. There are tens of millions of people in the same situation. You do not have to suffer alone or in silence. Do not let your fears of other people’s judgments keep you from getting help. Having a mental health condition is not a defect; it’s an illness for which treatment is available.

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