Stigma and withholding mental health treatment

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Right now, the phrase “it’s ok to not be ok” should be emphasized to everyone. The pandemic and the war between Russia and Ukraine have added to the stress, sadness and difficulties of daily life.

In his book Science Above Stigma: Mental Health Education and AdvocacyDaniel Morehead said many polls now show that people believe mental health is real, treatable, as important as physical health and nothing to be ashamed of. While these polls have reflected a positive view of mental health and addiction in our society, the reality is that stigma continues to be the number one reason people withhold treatment or drop out of treatment prematurely. .

Morehead further said that less than half of people diagnosed with a mental health condition or addiction receive the treatment they need. For those who do receive treatment, many do not adhere to it and drop out. There are many reasons why people do not seek the help they need, such as financial problems for treatment, access to treatment, transportation to and from therapy, and not having the means to have access to telehealth at home.

In my presentations and workshops on stigma, mental health and addiction, I ask participants to vocalize some of the stigmatizing statements said to people with mental health and/or addiction issues. Examples include being weak, a loser, a failure, etc. It reflects social (public) stigma, negative perception and beliefs towards an individual or a group of people.

Next, we look at self-stigma, which occurs when people affected by mental health or addiction issues internalize negative beliefs and labels from society. This is a big part of why so many people try to ignore, fend for themselves, or hide their sanity and addiction. In these cases, people often hope for it to go away or try to deal with these issues on their own. You’re not alone!

Useful tips:

  • If you hear someone say derogatory things about someone with mental health and/or addiction issues, take a deep breath first. For many, anger or sadness can be overwhelming, especially if they say things that affect you directly.

Know that they may be saying this because they are struggling and they are saying these kinds of statements to create distance between their thoughts and the help they need. Alternatively, they may lack understanding and knowledge regarding mental health issues, addictions, and recovery.

  • Therapy. If you can financially go ahead with the treatment, that is something you should be very proud of. Therapy should not be sought in response to a situation or problem. This can be part of preventive care, in addition to building coping and problem-solving skills. If you’ve tried therapy in the past and didn’t have a great experience, don’t give up. Keep looking until you find the right therapist for you. It could be a game changer.

I often use the following situation as an example. If I go to a restaurant and have a bad meal or bad service, I may not go back to that restaurant, but I will continue to go to other restaurants. The same can be said of therapy. You may have an unpleasant experience, but instead of saying, “I’m done; therapy is not for me,” keep going until you find the one that’s right for you. There are so many excellent therapists and psychologists waiting for you to contact them.

  • Support groups. If you are struggling with mental health and/or addiction issues, many support groups are available. Support groups are often free. Whether you’re looking for 12-step addiction support groups, groups focused on anxiety, depression, grief and loss, and more. These groups can help alleviate feelings of loneliness and disconnection while strengthening how you feel about being part of a mental health/addiction recovery group.
  • National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). As mentioned above regarding support groups, NAMI offers many support groups for individuals and families affected by addiction and mental health issues. These groups are free and often available in person and on a web platform. In addition to support groups, they advocate for mental health, offering community outreach and education. They offer many events focused on reducing stigma and increasing connection and support for those impacted by mental health and addiction issues.
  • Finally, contrary to the negative comments you hear due to mental health stigma, people who strive to improve their mental health are resilient, strong and empowered!

To find a therapist, visit Psychology Today’s Directory of Therapies.

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