Psychologists are starting to speak publicly about their own mental illnesses – and patients can benefit – St George News

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FEATURE (THE CONVERSATION) — From sports and entertainment celebrities like Simone Biles, Ariana Grande and Ryan Reynolds to everyday social media users on Facebook, Twitter and TikTok, more and more people are speaking out publicly about mental health.

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Yet students and professionals in all fields have long been told that talking openly about their own mental health experiences risks negative judgments from colleagues and supervisors, which can potentially harm their their career. Ironically, even professionals in mental health fields are encouraged to conceal their own experiences with mental illness.

This culture of silence runs counter to what psychologists know to be true about fighting stigma: that talking openly about mental health can help reduce stigma and encourage others to seek help.

The stigma of openness towards mental illness can also lead to systemic discrimination and the exclusion of mental health professionals from people who can make a valuable contribution to the field, whether in spite of or because of their unique mental health experiences.

We are a PhD candidate and an assistant professor of clinical psychology who have both experienced mental illness. In a recent study, we explored how common mental health issues are among clinical psychologists and trainees, and whether these issues affect them professionally.

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In a related commentary, we and our fellow psychologists wrote openly about our own experiences with mental illness to show others that success in mental health careers is possible for people who currently live or have lived with mental illness.

Psychologists are also people

In an upcoming peer-reviewed study, nearly 1,700 psychology faculty members and interns completed an online survey about their experiences with mental health. This is the largest study to date of rates of mental illness in graduate programs that train clinical, counseling and school psychologists.

Our survey asked participants two separate questions: whether they had ever experienced “mental health difficulties” and whether they had ever been diagnosed with a mental illness by a professional. It was important to ask both questions because some mental health difficulties are not labeled as specific conditions, and all respondents may not have had access to a mental health provider who could make a formal diagnosis.

More than 80% of all respondents said they had experienced mental health issues at some point, and 48% said they had been diagnosed with a mental illness. These rates are similar to rates of mental illness in the general population.

Our results show that, far from being immune to the conditions they treat in others, psychologists struggle with mental difficulties or illnesses just as much as their patients.

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Mental illnesses are the leading causes of disability worldwide. This fact may partly explain why psychology professionals are stigmatized about their disclosure: some may view mental illness as an insurmountable handicap to be effective in researching mental illness or treating it in others.

However, in our survey of psychology faculty members and interns, 95% of respondents with mental health issues reported having “none” or “mild” work issues related to these experiences. More than 80% of people diagnosed with mental illness said the same.

This finding underscores that living with a mental illness is by no means an obstacle to being a competent and effective psychologist.

Stigma as a barrier to inclusion

Through another upcoming study, we have identified some of the structural barriers within clinical psychology that may discourage psychologists from talking about their own mental illness.

One of the main barriers is that – again, ironically – stigma around mental illness exists within the mental health profession. We found that psychologists and interns with mental illness may be unfairly viewed as damaged, incompetent or difficult to work with by their colleagues. We based this conclusion on our personal experiences in the profession, combined with the extensive body of research on the dynamics of mental illness disclosure.

Previous research has found that sharing one’s mental health issues, disability or illness in a training setting can result in the loss of professional opportunities, such as hiring or promotion or getting an award.

However, research also shows that sharing one’s mental illness can open up other avenues for receiving support and accommodations at work, such as adjusting job tasks, work schedules, and time and work expectations. yield.

Lived experience matters

As therapists ourselves who have worked with hundreds of clients, we have found that our mental health issues help us understand and understand the challenges our patients face.

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Research suggests we are not alone. Studies show that therapists can use their experiences to inform how they work with clients. In fact, some widely used and scientifically backed therapies have been developed by psychologists with lived experience of mental health – such as “Dialectical Behavioral Therapy”, which aims to help clients live in the moment, manage stress and emotions in a healthy way and to improve relationships.

As scientific researchers, we have discovered that our experiences in mental health not only inform our ideas, but also help us to effectively combat the inevitable setbacks that come with a profession defined by endless hours of data collection, grant writing and a culture of publication or perishability. .

Having personal experience with mental health issues reminds us why our work is meaningful and worthwhile: helping and improving the lives of real people dealing with real trauma and real emotional struggles.

Psychologists “come out” proud

Although we have chosen to make our struggles public, we are not saying that others like us should feel they must talk about them openly – or that all psychologists must have had mental health experiences in order to treat patients or to do research effectively.

Rather, we believe that psychologists who have chosen to speak out about their mental illness can use their positions to destigmatize openness about these health issues – for other mental health care providers as well as for the patients they serve.

Written by ANDREW DEVENDORF, University of South Florida and SARAH VICTOR, Texas Tech University.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article here.

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