Mental Health Stigma

Most mental health statistics will say that 25% of people are diagnosed with mental health issues, but I would argue that most people can fit a mental health diagnosis at some point in their lives.  The problem is that many people who have mental health issues don’t get help because they are afraid of the stigma and consequences of being diagnosed.   People go through things, and would benefit from short term support but they are afraid to get help, and that needs to change.  One of the things that this country needs to work on is taking the stigma away from issues related to mental health.

After working with active duty military for many years, I was saddened by the stigma that the military puts on mental health diagnosis.  People that needed help due to trauma related to combat situations never got it because a mental health diagnosis in their medical record had the potential to end their career.  With some issues, members would lose their security clearance and the job in the military that they loved.  There were also times when people were teased about going to the mental health clinic for help.  Now working in the VA, those beliefs are still alive and well, and Veteran’s continue to struggle to get the help they need due to the fear of the stigma of a diagnosis.

In the civilian population, the stigma continues to keep people away from getting help.  Many people have questions about coming for treatment, and fears, like getting fired if their employer finds out they have a diagnosis.  I have also worked with people who are concerned about their relationships, and having to tell people that they have a mental health diagnosis.  These concerns require extensive education around HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act).  This act protects your medical information.  Your employer needs to know what issues that you have that will affect your ability to do the job you have applied for, but it doesn’t give them the right to review your medical record.  Many people have depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, and other mental health issues, but are stable with support and medication.  They function well in many different jobs and professions, from doctors and lawyers, nurses, teachers, retail clerks, and so many more professions.  In relationships, disclosing issues is important, but only in certain circumstances and at a point when the relationship is more committed.

Getting help for mental health issues should not be a scary experience.  Finding a therapist that you can work with is important,  for support and developing skills.  Working with a good therapist around defining healthy relationships and boundaries is as important as understanding depression and how to treat it.  There are lots of sites that talk about depression, and many people can read about options and make changes independently, but many others need support as they make changes.  Reading about cognitive behavioral therapy and making it work for you are two different things.  It’s easy to read about something and “dabble” in it, and dismiss it because you don’t think it works.  It does work, if done right.

Mental health issues don’t mean that you can’t be happy.  They don’t mean that you can’t be productive, get married, have kids, or raise your kids to be happy, healthy people.  Everyone has issues, whether they are medical issues, like paralysis or diabetes, that affect their functioning but with support, treatment and education there aren’t may diagnosis, medical or mental health, that can’t be managed.  Don’t let anything get you down.  Get educated and get support if you need it.  You can be successful, and happy for life.