Seeing a physician isn't embarrassing if we have the flu, a high fever, or other serious health problems. No one will criticize you for seeking medical help for a physical health problem and, indeed, most people would fault you if you didn't seek medical help.
Yet we often find that mental health issues bring a very different reaction. People sometimes see mental illness not as a health issue, but as a character flaw, a serious defect, something that marks a person as weak, unstable, perhaps even violent or dangerous.
Such reactions have serious consequences for millions of Americans who could be healthier and happier if they were receiving the mental health help readily available. But many don't seek such help out of fear of being "labeled" with a mental illness, feeling family and friends won't understand, or that it could lead to discrimination at work or school.
Too many people who could use help instead see their condition as a sign of personal weakness. They may mistakenly believe that they should be able to control whatever is wrong without outside help.
Please, work to correct this misinformation and encourage people to seek needed treatment. For example, researchers estimate that one in eight U.S. adolescents is suffering from depression. Each day an estimated 3,000 young people in grades 9 to 12 attempt suicide, yet only 30% of young people facing mental health issues ever receive any type of treatment or intervention. This lack of treatment helps lead to more than 4,600 suicides by young people each year. The statistics are even scarier among senior citizens and our military veterans.
What you can do:
- Speak up. Tell people if you have had treatment and how valuable it was just as you would share that an MD treated you for blood pressure, cholesterol, digestive problems, heart conditions, etc.
- Ask your schools to teach a module on emotional intelligence at all grade levels each year. This could empower students to be assertive, learn empathy, and decrease incidents of bullying.
- If you see a relative or friend in distress don't shy away, instead, suggest psychotherapy as an option and share your own experiences.
- Do some research and study in improving communication, parenting techniques, conflict resolution and bring these skills into your family and work situations.
- Consider scheduling a weekly Family Meeting where all members can feel safe to discuss issues and generate solutions to influence family dynamics toward more cohesion, trust and contentment. Even infants and toddlers attend!
If you or someone you know is suffering from a mental health issue, don't give in to the stigma, but rather take action for better health. Talk to a friend or family members about what's bothering you and look into assistance from a mental health professional. Seeking mental health help is not a weakness; it's as logical and right as seeing a doctor for the flu.
Adapted from American Counseling Association’s Counseling Corner Blog.
Here are some thoughts from Markus Howard on The Marquette basketball team about his mental health treatment as published in The NYTimes.