May is Mental Health Month, and today is Mental Health Blog Day, so I thought I would post a bit about the stigma surrounding mental disorders and seeking mental health services. According to research by Pescosolido et al. published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior (Vol. 41, No. 2), 68 percent of Americans don’t want someone with a mental illness marrying into their family and 58 percent don’t want people with mental illness in their workplaces (1). This is disturbing, especially considering that the National Alliance on Mental Illness reports that that one in four American adults and one in 10 children experiences a mental health disorder every year, which is about 60 million Americans per year. That is a large section of the population to want shut out of your family and workplace.
Who of us has not been depressed at some point or another, or found ourselves being anxious, or gone back to check a lock or the stove even though we’re pretty sure we’ve locked the door and the stove is off? Many mental illnesses such as major depression, anxiety disorders, and obsessive compulsive disorder are exaggerations of things we have all done. The difference is that someone with a mental illness has symptoms that persist to the point they interfere with daily living and/or cause distress. Do people really want to add to that by closing themselves off to people who have mental illnesses?
And what if one day, as is statistically likely, it’s you being diagnosed with a mental illness? Would you want to be denied the support of family or shut out of the ability to work? What if I said people with cancer shouldn’t be able to marry or people with heart disease shouldn’t be allowed in the workplace? That would be ridiculous, right? So too with mental illnesses. One should look at mental illnesses and the people who have them no differently than we look at those with medical illnesses.
Similarly, one should look at seeking mental health services no differently than going to a doctor’s appointment. That goes for other people going and for going yourself. So many people avoid seeking mental health services because of fears because of stigma. If more people took the time to learn a little about mental illnesses, to be educated instead of afraid, it would help those who have already been diagnosed, and those who fear going for help because they might be diagnosed.
If you are looking for mental health services yourself and don’t know where to start, here are a few options. The American Counseling Association has a Find a Counselor section including the National Board of Certified Counselor’s CounselorFind and Psychology Today’s Therapy Directory. The American Psychological Association offers a Psychologist Locator.
If you are in the military or are the dependent of someone in the military, you can get short-term, non-medical counseling for free from a Military Family Life Consultant. You can generally ask about getting in touch with one through your local Army Community Services, Marine Corps Community Services, Navy Fleet and Family Support Centers or Airman and Family Readiness Centers. If you’re a civilian, check if your company has an Employee Assistance Program (EAP). A previous job had one offering a certain number of free counseling sessions.
There are many options for assistance. Your mental health is just as important as your physical health (and sometimes influences your physical health as well), so if you wouldn’t hesitate to see a medical doctor if you need one, please don’t hesitate to see a counselor or psychologist.
(1) Pescosolido, B.A., Jensen, P.S., Martin, J.K., Perry, B.L., Olafsdottir, S., & Fettes, D. (2008). Public knowledge and assessment of child mental health problems: Findings from the national stigma study—children. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 47, 339–349.