By Lori Blumenstein-Bott
With approximately 1 in 5 adults (nearly 47 million individuals) in the U.S. experiencing a mental illness, odds are good someone you know is affected— the odds are even better that you have no idea they are struggling. Why? Primarily it’s because of the unnecessary stigma surrounding mental health.
A close friend of mine once remarked that if it were cancer, we would offer our sympathy, help the family deal with their stress by making dinners, offer to run errands, take care of pets, etc. However, since it is a mental health issue, the person and family often struggle in silence. Recently, I was shopping and decided to purchase something for my mother, who was recently hospitalized. I mentioned this to the clerk, who was highly supportive, even sharing her own story and then wishing me well as she knew the stress it was creating in our lives. Imagine if that happened when someone was in the same circumstance, but it was a mental health issue. Would it have been the same?
The issue is discrimination of both the person and family members. If shared, often, judgment arises, and the secrecy and silence are reinforced. The stigma of mental illness wipes out in our minds the potential that every human being has within them. It blinds the family and the person to their strength and ability to contribute to the greater whole.
The good news is that mental health has an abundance of possibilities for treatment. The first step is to open up that potential to the broader community. To accomplish this, it cannot be a one size fits all approach. As a society, we need to recognize that the brain is an organ, and just like every other organ that makes up the complexity of a human, it can fall symptom to an ailment. We need a conversation that mental health is no better or worse than other illnesses. We need reminder signs and more people to keep the conversation moving. We need people – local community and business leaders, school principals, clergy and you and I — to step up and talk about their experiences how they have dealt with mental health issues.
Being on the frontlines of mental health, we are uniquely poised to work with individuals and their families to remove the focus on it as a problem. The way you embrace all mental health is by including everyone surrounding those affected; and that includes doctors who should be consulting, interacting, and communicating with each other. While we focus on self-study as a method of treatment, we realize that it is equally important to understand that it does not happen in isolation. We have found that therapeutic engagement best serves the whole person and family.
Mental health is not something new, nor is it something that isn’t being talked about. As a society, we need more conversations that it’s “ok to not be ok” when it comes to mental health. It’s long overdue to end the stigma surrounding mental health, and it is up to all of us to dedicate ourselves to positive change. We all must be “all in.”