Mental Health Stigma: Are You Part of the Problem? by Stephanie Cannoe
Approximately 8.2 million adults have co-occurring mental health and addiction disorders, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). And, it’s estimated that only about 43.1 percent of adults who have a mental health condition are actually in treatment. Concurrently, only 48.1 percent of adults with co-occurring mental illness and a substance use disorder receive either mental health care or specialty use treatment in 2016.
Like many people suffering from a behavioral health condition, most people do not immediately seek the help they need because of the shame and fear of people finding out about their illness, and the retributions, especially if you work in the behavioral health field. Your livelihood may feel threatened.
When seeking help for mind, body and spirit, there are also barriers to transparency and acceptance among many religious and spiritual healing communities. For example, most mindfulness communities promote Buddhist psychology and the practices themselves are helpful coping tools to learn. However, similar to religious institutions the manner in which the material is interpreted can be harmful and is stigmatizing when judgments and certain "rules" are the correct etiquette. For example, misinterpreting the role of medication to mean weakness is a subtle, but real, stigma that remains in most spiritual communities.
For someone who has never experienced a mental health disorder, I can understand the misunderstanding. At one time I felt similarly, but then I experienced a mental health disorder and needed medication to get well, and I had to confront my own internalized stigma. Today, I recognize the role medication serves and the importance.
This stigma does not exist with medical health diagnoses. For example, if you have a diabetic condition and take medication, but with healthier lifestyle habits you no longer need medication. Versus if you are born with a diabetic condition and are insulin dependent and need medication. Both examples are equally supported and well received. Your condition is not judged, nor is it blamed on you. With mental health diagnoses the same understanding and compassion is lacking and this is the beginning of mental health stigma. The evidence that there’s a biological basis, that people’s brains are different and that medication can help, is a long way from being accepted.
“Behavioral health conditions are not viewed as chronic medical conditions, and they should be. Instead they’re looked at pejoratively and seen as conditions of choice that people have control over when they’re struggling," states Dr. Martin Rosenzweig, Behavioral Health Chief Medical Officer at Optum.
Mental health stigma speaks loudly and there are very deep-rooted assumptions, even within the medical community. The messages are clear: It is your fault. You have a fundamental personality or developmental defect. You are not as spiritually evolved. You are bad. There is something wrong with you. Social stigma oftentimes does get turned into self-stigma and when you believe it the impact is even more devastating.
Removing the barriers to treatment and mental health stigma is necessary and begins with an open dialogue. Mental health does affect almost everyone. If not you, then someone you know.
Are you part of the problem? Do you support mental health stigma? If so, where does it come from? What is the root cause to your negative perception and beliefs?
Together, let’s start the conversation and stop the stigma.