Any disease can make a person sad and uncomfortable because it reminds us of our own vulnerability. Mental health disease even more so, because it affects our thoughts, feelings, behaviors and the ability to relate to others or manage daily activities. But unlike talking about medical illness, we don’t talk enough about mental illness due to the attached stigma.
But why is it so important to fight stigma against Mental Illness? One reason is that it rests on false beliefs. They may include a perception that people living with mental illness are dangerous, incompetent, unreliable, irrational and difficult to interact with or these patients may be responsible for their own poor living conditions or poor attendance to medical and mental health care.
Very often, the behavior of a patient with mental illness is misunderstood. One misconception is that “People with a mental illness are lazy and weak and if they tried harder they could “snap” out of it.”
According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, Mental illness is very common: 1 in 5 American adults experience a mental health issue, 1 in 10 young people experience a period of major depression.
What can we do? Most importantly, we can begin to see our patients as a whole person. Our patients come to us for many reasons and we need to not label them as an illness, be it a medical or mental health illness. We must begin by being aware of our verbiage. Instead of referring to a patient as depressed, manic, schizophrenic or BiPolar, begin recognizing the difference in stating the patient (i.e. Jane) is struggling, managing or coping with (fill in the blank). Our verbiage empowers patients to see themselves, as a patient managing an illness.
Sheila King-Miller, LCSW, CCTP
Family First Health – Behavioral Health Consultant