Seriously, It’s time to end mental health stigma because seeking support is healthy. As a licensed mental health therapist, I often meet folks new to therapy afraid and embarrassed to connect to mental health support….and why? Because of the stigma of connecting to mental health stigmas:
I don’t want to look weak.
Does this mean I’m crazy?
Going to therapy means something is really, really wrong.
What will my family think of me?…my friends?
Going to therapy means I lost faith in God.
I’m a failure.
People do have good reasons to have these thoughts. Media and movies do not do a good job at accurately depicting what a person living with mental health issues commonly looks like. Most movies show a white person living with a severe mental diagnosis, characters like The Joker.
Go to the mirror, that is what a person living with a mental health need can look like. Mental health issues are not always witnessed or visible; and mental health needs run on a spectrum. A person struggling with depression or anxiety can look like a very happy person that cracks a lot of jokes. A person struggling with anxiety can look like a moody loved one that always cancels last minute events, a successful executive that spends more time in the office than with family and friends, or a physically fit person that does yoga that excessively counts calories, and weights themselves.
Every person on this Earth will experience depression or anxiety at some point in their lives. Yes, including me and you. It is very human to feel sad when you see, hear, or experience sad things: like a loss of a job, disappointment in a dream deferred, or being physically hurt. It is also very human to experience feeling on edge and restless during uncertainty ( i.e.., coping with this pandemic or being a BIPOC male pulled over by the police). Not all symptoms warrant a mental health diagnosis, but every person can benefit from mental health support. Honestly, most people are having a very normal reaction to abnormal circumstances. Your emotional self is directly connected to your physical self. Unaddressed mental health needs can cause issues in other parts of our lives.
It is no wonder that depression is a leading cause of disability worldwide and is a major contributor to the overall global burden of disease.
Number of African Americans with Mental Illness: 6.8 million
Number of Latinx/Hispanic Americans with Mental Illness: 8.9 million
Number of Asian Americans with Mental Illness: 2.2 million
Number of Native Americans/Alaskan Natives with Mental Illness: 830,000
We are de-stigmatizing mental illness and seeking support by having the important conversation. We are normalizing having difficult but important conversations about our health and mental health needs.
Here is what you can do:
1. Honest conversations
Check-in with yourself. Schedule weekly or monthly check-ins with yourself about how you are doing emotionally and physically. Ask, yourself what do I need more of and less of? Make a list of these two, and then write down the barriers to achieving it.
2. Ask for help / Tell PCP
Now that you have made a list. Ask yourself, do you have someone in your life that you are willing to ask? The worst thing they can say is no, but at least you give others an opportunity to help if they are available to help.
It is always a great practice to call or message your Primary Care Provider (PCP) about feeling depressed or anxious. Your PCP can help you explore options for care.
3. Research ahead of time for self & others
Explore options for care on your own. Depending on your community, there may be others you can connect with or resources available. Sometimes, family or friends will come to you for help and you may be lost on how to support. Save numbers like a Medical Adviceline or local Suicide hotline to your phone to keep handy. (Here’s a head start, Suicide prevention : 800-273-8255)
4. Develop a Care Routine
Everyone has their own unique ways that they take care of their emotional selves. Some benefit from spending time in nature, being with animals, exercising or prayer. Whether it is taking naps or connecting with family and friends. Last year, weekly therapy and Bible Study helped me. This year, I’m monitoring my blood pressure and practicing in group exercise to care for myself .Explore and learn new ways to replenish, recharge, and care for yourself.
5. Connect to Professional, Licensed Therapist
That is what they do! Licensed Psychotherapist can be LMFT, LCSW, PhD, Psy.D or Psychiatrist. These mental health professionals are trained to diagnose and treat mental health issues. Some providers specialize in specific issues or certified and trained to administered certify types of therapeutic modalities (i.e.., EMDR, Brainspotting, hypnosis, etc.).
Yup medication, I have to say it. Some people benefit from medication management of symptoms due to hormonal imbalances or when psychotherapy has not been helpful enough. It is your body, you make the choice. Many people have received emotional relief and regained balance from psychotropic medications. Again, always consult with your medical provider or therapist.
CDC. (2019). Summary Health Statistics: National Health Interview Survey: 2017. Table A-7. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nhis/shs/tables.htm
CDC National Center for Health Statistics. Summary Health Statistics: National Health Interview Survey, 2018. https://ftp.cdc.gov/pub/Health_Statistics/NCHS/NHIS/SHS/2018_SHS_Table_P-11.pdf
Caplan S. (2019). Intersection of Cultural and Religious Beliefs About Mental Health: Latinos in the Faith-Based Setting. Hispanic health care international: the official journal of the National Association of Hispanic Nurses, 17(1), 4–10. https://doi.org/10.1177/1540415319828265
Jimenez, D. E., Bartels, S. J., Cardenas, V., & Alegría, M. (2013). Stigmatizing attitudes toward mental illness among racial/ethnic older adults in primary care. International journal of geriatric psychiatry, 28(10), 1061–1068. https://doi.org/10.1002/gps.3928. Accessed from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3672370/.
American Psychiatric Association. (2017). Mental health disparities: American Indians and Alaska Natives. https://www.psychiatry.org/File percent20Library/Psychiatrists/Cultural-Competency/Mental-Health-Disparities/Mental-Health-Facts-for-American-Indian-Alaska-Natives.pdf