Mental health awareness

When you know more about mental illness, you can help decrease the stigma associated with it.

June 1, 2018 - Author: Holly Tiret, Michigan State University Extension

Mental health conditions are common. According to Mental Health America, over 40 million adult Americans have a mental health condition. Today, many therapies exist that can help people with mental health conditions feel better and live lives that are more productive. Unfortunately, many adults and youth who are diagnosed do not get the treatment they need for a variety of reasons.

One reason is a lack of insurance or having inadequate insurance coverage for mental health treatment. Even with insurance, the cost of co-pays, therapy sessions or medications can be quite expensive. A lack of trained mental health professionals makes finding services even harder. There is estimated to be one mental health professional for every 529 individuals in the United States.

People with mental illness may not seek treatment due to the stigma that surrounds it. According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, stigma is defined as a set of negative and often unfair beliefs that a society or group of people have about something. The stigma of mental illness often comes from negative stereotypes portrayed in books, movies, television and is perpetuated by society.

Mental health and the workplace

The stigma of mental illness is often present in the workplace. Bosses and co-workers may easily accept people missing work due to a communicable physical ailment such as a cold or the flu, or missing work for physical therapy to treat injuries. However, they are less understanding of the need to take a sick day for a mental health issue. Unlike physical ailments, the symptoms of mental illness typically can’t be seen and are ongoing. This differs from acute conditions like the flu or a sinus infection where someone gets sick; they rest or receive treatment and then eventually get better. Mental health illnesses such as depression are chronic conditions – they are ongoing and are not going to be cured.

Chronic conditions also include physical ailments such as diabetes and high blood pressure, and all chronic conditions need to be managed over time.

Due to this stigma many people who actually need to take a sick day for mental health reasons, known as a “mental health day” – are more likely to say they have a cold than be open about their true condition.

Reducing the economic burden of mental health conditions

Getting treatment is important not only for individuals but also for society. People with mental health issues tend to have other health issues that all contribute to missed days of work. In the United States, the annual economic burden was estimated to be 51 billion as of 2000, according to Paul Greenberg in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry 2015. With this cost in mind, it makes economic sense to ensure adequate mental health care for all.

Learn more and reduce the stigma of mental health

Raising awareness about mental health can be extremely effective in reducing the stigma associated with it. Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) is a one-day training, much like First Aid, developed to help people improve their knowledge of mental health issues. It provides concrete examples of how to support individuals in distress. It has proven to decrease negative attitudes and increase supportive behaviors toward individuals with mental health problems.

Michigan State University Extension, in an effort to create a healthier workforce both physically and mentally, has implemented Mental Health First Aid training throughout the state for its employees. The hope is to increase this offering to the public in the very near future. If you are interested in finding a class near you please visit www.mentalhealthfirstaid.org.

Consider taking a course. By improving your knowledge, you are helping to decrease the stigma of mental illness. By learning how to support someone in distress and helping them seek the help they need, you can be the difference between them getting treatment or continuing to go without.

Tags: community behavioral health, family, food & health, healthy relationships, msu extension, relax: alternatives to anger, stress less with mindfulness


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