Erasing the Stigma

Mental illness. Two words that make a majority of people uncomfortable. Two words that 1 in 5 Americans experience.

People are more likely to talk about their physical ailments than their mental. Even though, mental health problems are more common than heart disease, lung disease, and cancer COMBINED. Then why do so many people cringe or judge over someone with a mental illness?

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It’s called STIGMA. As those who have been following my blog over the past couple of years know, I am VERY open about my mental disorders. From the age of 11 I was dually diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). I also have General Anxiety Disorder, have had Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, recovered from Orthorexia and depression. But you probably wouldn’t have guessed it if you knew me in high school or college. I’ve always been super involved in school and sports. But, the fact is, the happy-go-lucky girl has always been battling some sort of inner battle. I’m no longer ashamed of my disorders, I know it’s just part of my makeup and I’m proud of the woman I’ve become.

“Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, but stigma and bias shame us all.” – Former President Bill Clinton

Here’s some statistics on mental disorders. A national survey of Americans found that 19.6% of adults (18 or older) experienced a mental disorder in any one year. This is equivalent to 45.6 million people.

Percentage of American Adults with Mental Disorders in Any One Year

TYPE OF MENTAL DISORDER

ADULTS

Anxiety Disorders

19.1%

Major Depressive Disorder

6.8%

Substance Use Disorder

8%

Bipolar Disorder

2.8%

Eating Disorders

2.1%

Schizophrenia

0.45%

Any mental disorder

19.6%

I think it’s important to note here that these statistics are based on REPORTED mental disorders. The percentage of people who go undiagnosed and untreated are unknown. I truly believe all of these numbers are much larger. But, what’s reported is still very significant and alarming.

So, I make it my mission to erase that stigma of mental illness, educate others and put a face to the disorders I’ve gone through in my life.

Mental Health First Aid

Last week I went through Mental Health First Aid training (MHFA). I’m sure a majority of you have taken CPR and First Aid Training to be able to assist a loved on or stranger in a physical health crisis. But, did you know you’re more likely to encounter someone experiencing a mental health crisis over a physical one?

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Mental Health First Aid is just like First Aid training, it aims to teach members of the pubic how to respond in a mental health emergency and offer support to someone who appears to be in emotional distress.

“The most basic and powerful way to connect to another person is to listen. Just listen. Perhaps the most important thing we ever give each other is our attention… A loving silence often has far more power to heal and to connect than the most well-intentional words.” – Rachel Naomi Remen, Clinical Professor of Family and Community Medicine, University of California

Those eight hours of MHFA training were so worth it. And I truly believe EVERYONE should go through the training! I thought I was knowledgeable about the subject going into it, but coming out of it I had learned SO much more and made me feel more powerful and confident in assisting someone going through a mental health crisis.

Here are some facts that might help your decision in getting MHFA trained too:

  • Did you know 1 in 5 people experience a panic attack?
  • Untreated depression causes an average of 5 hours per week, or more than 3 days a month of lost productivity in the workplace.
  • One person dies by suicide every 16.2 minutes.
  • You can assist someone going through a mental health crisis get the appropriate care.
  • YOU can save a life.

Now let’s dispel some common myths:

“Mental disorders are signs of weakness or personality flaws. If someone wants to be happy, they simply can be happy. If you ignore the problem and use willpower, the problem will simply go away.”

These beliefs are inaccurate and hurtful. Mental disorders cannot be willed away. Ignoring the problem typically makes it worse. Treatment strategies will differ for each individual, but professional help is the first step. Depression and other major mental disorders have nothing to do with laziness or lack of willpower.

“People with mental disorders are violent.”

Individuals living with mental disorders are no more likely than a member of the general population to commit a violent act. Research shows that as a group, people with mental disorders are far more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators. More than one quarter of persons with severe mental illness had been victims of a violent crime in the past year, a rate more than 11 times higher than the general population. Put another way, research has shown that the vast majority of people who are violent DO NOT suffer from mental disorders. The truth of the matter is those people we hear about on the news who’ve brought a gun to a school or committed some other form of violence and were said to have had a mental illness are the exception. 

“‘Healthy’ people aren’t affected by traumatic events. If they are, it’s because they really do have a mental health problem.”

Trauma can affect anyone, regardless of how strong or psychologically healthy.

People with psychosis usually come from a dysfunctional family.

FALSE

It’s important to educate yourself further on mental disorders. It’s also just as important, if not more important, to become Mental Health First Aid trained as it is First Aid trained. Click here to visit the MHFA website and learn more!

Not only do I feel more educated and skillful in helping someone else with a mental health crisis, but I also feel more apt to take better care of my own mental health. I’ve gone to counselors and psychiatrists since I was probably about the age of 10. But, lately I’ve been experiencing more of my anxiety symptoms and have been shoving it off, taking care of my physical ailments such a sprained ankle and shoulder bursitis. I ice and elevate my sprained ankle, but I wasn’t doing anything to help with my anxiety issues. So, before I made this post, I scheduled an appointment with a new psychiatrist, since I’m not a fan of the one I’ve been seeing since I was 12. I can’t just tell people how important their mental well-being is and then overlook my own. That is just too hypocritical of me and just not healthy.

I tried to make this blog post as short and to the point as possible – so y’all would be more apt to read the whole thing. 🙂

Take care of yourselves, physically and mentally.

(Much of the information here was found in the Mental Health First Aid USA Manual, 2013)

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