May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Together, we can work to help the public understand that mental healthcare is healthcare, and it is no less deserving of compassion and appropriate treatment than any other health condition.

Mental illness is not a flaw or a character defect. It does not mean a person had a traumatic childhood or lacks some inherent strength to conquer mental health concerns alone. At the Hancock Health Connection Center, we work hard to address these mental health myths and misconceptions.

The harmful impact of stigma

Merriam-Webster defines stigma as “a set of negative and unfair beliefs that a society or group of people have about something.” Common mental health stigmas include:

·        People with mental illness are dangerous.

·        People with mental health problems cannot be trusted to hold a job.

·        People with mental illness are lazy.

·        People with mental health concerns, including substance misuse, cannot be helped.

None of these misconceptions above are grounded in reality. Instead, they grow out of misunderstanding and a lack of education around mental health matters. Worse, they can have pervasive impacts on mental health funding and treatment. They also victimize individuals who may buy into the harmful stereotypes. A 2017 study indicated that self-stigma, or the internalization of negative stereotypes, can be associated with a significant decrease in recovery.

Individuals with mental health concerns deserve appropriate treatment and a healthcare plan focused on letting them live their best lives. Knocking down those walls of stigma can be the first step to a better life for them, the people who love them, and the rest of society who benefit from healthy friends and neighbors.

Strategies for reducing the stigma of mental healthcare

“Education’s purpose is to replace an empty mind with an open one.” —Malcolm Forbes

Education is one of our most powerful tools to break down mental health stigmas. Consider these facts from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration that counter common mental health misconceptions:

·        One in five American adults are affected with a mental health condition in any given year. One in 20 American adults live with a serious mental illness, such as schizophrenia or major depressive disorder.

·        Children may experience mental health conditions. Only about half of all children and adolescents with diagnosable conditions receive appropriate mental healthcare.

·        Most individuals with mental health concerns are no more violent than anyone else.

·        Many individuals can and do recover from mental health concerns.

·        Friends and family members can play a powerful role in helping people get the mental healthcare resources they need.

Sharing experiences helps shine a light on mental health conditions. It also tells others that you are not ashamed of yourself or your loved ones. Finally, it lifts the veil of secrecy and treats mental healthcare like any other healthcare. We’re not afraid to discuss diabetes, autoimmune diseases, and other health related concerns. Mental health is no different.

Listen to others’ stories. If someone trusts you enough to share their mental health diagnosis and story, offer compassion and understanding. Let them know that you are a safe person who will listen without judgment.

Counter misinformation with facts. Healthy discussions can open the minds of people who haven’t been exposed to the facts about mental healthcare. For instance, individuals who struggle with substance misuse are not stereotypes. They are neighbors, friends, or beloved children who deserve the same compassion society offers to people struggling with cancer, diabetes, or other health concerns. When you hear someone disparaging people with mental health concerns, don’t be afraid to speak up with the truth.

Encourage individuals with mental health concerns to seek appropriate treatment. Hancock Health offers many support groups for people with mental healthcare concerns. For instance, our RISE Recovery & Wellness program provides a welcoming space for people who are seeking treatment for substance abuse disorder. Not sure where to start? The Hancock Health Connection Center’s support navigators are ready to help you navigate available mental healthcare options.

Together, we can reduce the stigma around mental healthcare and make our world a safer, more accepting place. If you or someone you know is struggling, contact the Hancock Health Connection Center now at 317-468-4231.

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