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Public education can help reduce stigma of mental illness

Jun. 14, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

Stigma sets people apart from the rest of society by creating feelings of shame and isolating the person living with the stigma.

Stigma makes people see the person as the problem, instead of seeing the problem as the problem.

Stigma causes suffering that might cause delays in seeking help for a problem. It even prevents people from getting help for problems easily solved.

Stigma excludes people from everything from housing to education, employment, insurance, and medical care.

Stigma causes avoidance, prejudice, rejection and discrimination. It comes from misunderstanding, lack of accurate information or unwillingness to change strongly held beliefs.

Reducing and eliminating stigma is important because mental health stigma is a rampant public issue.

In a study conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2006 and 2007, only one quarter of young adults aged 18-24 years believe that a person with mental illness can eventually recover.

The majority of people surveyed across 37 states agree that mental health treatment is helpful (78-89 percent say treatment is helpful). Interestingly, only 25 percent of adults with mental health symptoms believe that people are "caring and sympathetic" toward people with mental health symptoms, compared to 57 percent of adults without mental health symptoms reporting they believe people in general are caring and sympathetic.

These findings point out the discrepancies among us and the stigma that exists about mental illness.

For more information about these studies, see http://www.cdc.gov and www.samhsa.gov.

Consider your personal definition of "mental health." We all can work toward seeing mental health as a state of well being, a positive attribute. It's time to accept that "the check-up from your neck up" is as important as any other health check-ups.

Mental health happens when people are able to realize their own abilities and limitations, manage stress effectively, work productively and contribute to their community. Scientists are beginning to understand the connection between positive mental health and physical health problems.

Consider your personal definition of "mental illness." Mental illness is characterized by changes in and differences in thinking, mood or behavior (or a combination of those) that results in distress or affects functioning.

Depression is the most common type of mental illness and it affects an estimated 26 percent of the US population, according to the CDC (see www.cdc.gov).

Some estimates put depression as the second leading cause of disability in the world by 2020, second only to heart disease (see www.cdc.gov).

Many mental disorders are strongly related to chronic diseases like diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular disease, asthma and obesity. Mental disorders can present a risks for chronic diseases through physical inactivity, smoking, excessive drinking and insufficient sleep. People with mental illnesses are nearly twice as likely as individuals without mental illnesses to smoke cigarettes.

Being told about a chronic health condition may cause feelings of depression, hopelessness and worthlessness. If these emotions persist for two weeks or more and impair the person's ability to function, an evaluation and treatment for mental illness might be helpful.

Determining the "chicken or the egg" or which came first is not as important as reducing symptoms to a manageable level.

There has always been more focus on mental illness than on mental health. More can be done to protect the mental health of people free from mental illness.

Researchers have identified that there are indicators of mental health that include emotional well-being, psychological well-being and social well-being.

Emotional well-being includes feeling satisfaction with life, happiness, cheerfulness and peacefulness.

Psychological well-being includes self-acceptance, optimism, openness to new experiences, hopefulness, having a purpose in life, spirituality and positive relationships.

Social well-being includes social acceptance and being accepted by others, having personal self-worth and usefulness to society and holding a sense of community. In order to have good mental health, there has to be adequate housing, safe neighborhoods, decent jobs and wages, quality education and good access to quality health care services.

Often people fear what they do not understand and lack of understanding perpetuates stigma.

Mental health, mental wellness and mental illness may be one of the best examples. People who suffer from a mental illness are more likely to be victims of crimes themselves than they are to commit crimes.

Public education about mental illness is the best weapon for defeating stigma. Stigma is the primary reason that many people who have mental illnesses, emotional problems or psychological distress do not seek help.

Mental illness is an important public health problem. Advancements in scientific research about the brain and mental health, mental wellness and mental illness will continue to lead the way toward eliminating stigma. Eventually, the full integration of primary health care and mental health care will be seamless.

Mental health promotion and mental illness prevention will be integrated fully into the fabric of our health care systems, insurance companies, families, businesses and communities. Mental health is everyone's business. Decreasing stigma with education, telling others, and discussing mental wellness openly is the vehicle to get there.

When a problem with mental health interferes with functioning at work, school or at home, an evaluation with a professional is helpful. People feel better with the right kind of care. Prestera Center offers a variety of services that promote mental wellness, including outpatient, intensive outpatient and programs that prevent psychiatric hospitalization. Treatment services are specially designed to meet the unique needs of each person.

Prestera Center offers Putnam County residents access to effective professional mental health and addictions treatment services in Winfield and Hurricane. Offices in Winfield are located at 3389 Winfield Road, Suite 8, on the grounds of the Courthouse Complex (304-586-0670). Offices in Hurricane are called "Hopewell" and are located at 3772 Teays Valley Road (304-757-8475). The Hopewell offices specialize in serving adults with insurance in need of addiction treatment and mental health problems like grief, depression and anxiety or more severe mental health problems. Both offices are accepting new clients and scheduling appointments. Walk-ins are also welcome Monday through Friday between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. at the Winfield location.

Kim Miller is the director of Corporate Development at Prestera. She can be reached at kim.miller@prestera.org.