Mental health issues are far from uncommon, and unfortunately tend to be neglected. Not only by the people surrounding those suffering, such as friends, family, and peers, but by themselves as well. It is estimated that around 20 to 25% of the American population lives with a mental illness, and according to one study, the success rate for those who seek treatment is outstanding. 80 to 90% of people with depression, one of the most common of mental illnesses, are able to be treated successfully with therapy or medication, or a combination of the two (WHO, 2016). So if this is the case, why do so many people decide to suffer in silence? And why does suicide take nearly 800,000 lives every year?
This could be attributed to many different causes. Personal conflicts such as the fear of being seen as weak or one feeling as though they are hopeless, that they are past the point of being helped, are two very common ones. In addition, the stigma surrounding mental illness, although it has been steadily improving in recent years, is one of the greatest deterrents for those desperately in need of treatment. Not only that, but on average it can be very expensive to see a therapist or a psychiatrist, making professional help much less accessible to many people. Only around half of the population living with a mental health condition ever receives treatment, so what can we do to improve those numbers and increase the likelihood that those in need will seek out help?
There is no simple answer, however, one thing each of us can do is to take steps to begin to destigmatize issues regarding mental health and their treatments. When we hear the phrase “mental illness”, it is likely that the first image to come to mind will be of a person with a diminished grasp on reality. Someone who might need intensive care and one who is possibly dangerous. This could be due to a number of things, including a negative media portrayal of mental illness and a lack of education on the matter. This is not only inaccurate, but extremely harmful because, the reality is, an estimated one in five US citizens (NIMH, 2017) are affected at some point in their lives. With those statistics, it is extremely likely that you know, and care about, someone who struggles with a mental illness on a daily basis, whether it’s a friend, family member, or even yourself. Just about everyone is connected to mental illness in some way, and it can be debilitating. Some symptoms common among these conditions include extreme fears and worries, mood changes, withdrawal, drug or alcohol abuse, inability to cope with stress, and suicidal thoughts or actions (Mental Illness, 2015). With some of the effects being so severe and such a large amount of the population having to experience them, it is vital that we take this issue seriously.
TADS (The Treatment for Adolescents With Depression Study) found that the majority of the subjects who were treated for depression with a combination of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and medication saw significant improvement, helping support the theory that not only are these treatments useful, but by utilizing them, those with severe depression can greatly improve their symptoms in order to live a happier, more fulfilling life (March et al., 2007). But these benefits are not only limited to those with depression. There is also a great deal of evidence to suggest that they are extremely beneficial to the treatment of other mental health conditions including Generalized Anxiety Disorder, PTSD, and Bipolar Disorder (Psychotherapies, 2016). From this, we can conclude that the problem is likely not that successful treatments are not available, rather, that our society has caused us to be too ashamed to seek them.
The destigmatization of mental illness has not been and will not be an easy fix, but it will greatly improve the mental health of the general population. One way we as individuals can begin to take steps in the right direction is to be more open about our personal struggles with mental health, as well as supporting others who open up. In addition, we can also push for more exposure in the form of better education on the matter. This would help to familiarize people on these issues from a young age, so that not only will they understand what to do if they themselves begin to struggle, but they will also be better equipped to help someone who is struggling. Media influence has also been shown to be successful in helping to destigmatize mental illness. SANE Australia, an organization intended to help those dealing with mental illness, has been educating journalists and fighting stigmatizing messages in media successfully for over thirty years (Rüsch et al., 2005). One more recent example though, would be social media’s role in destigmatizing mental illness. Overall, it has been observed that this form of connecting has allowed issues like these to become more normalized (Betton et al., 2018). If we continue this trend, we will see people becoming more empathetic to these extremely misunderstood conditions.
With mental illness being such a prominent issue, not only does it need to be taken more seriously, but we also need to push for changes to how we deal with and interact with it fundamentally. Taking steps to erase the stigma surrounding mental health problems is absolutely essential to obtaining the ambitious goal of having a more mentally healthy society, not only in the US, but around the world. Because the less people are ashamed of seeking help, the more likely they are to go through with it, and in turn, improving their quality of life. Everyone deserves the chance to live a happy, healthy, and successful life. The treatments are out there, we just need to increase the likelihood that those in need of them will take advantage of those opportunities. It should not have to be as uncomfortable as it is for many, and as long as we keep treating mental health afflictions as something to be ashamed of, people will continue to avoid treatment.
Betton, Victoria, et al. “The Role of Social Media in Reducing Stigma and Discrimination | The British Journal of Psychiatry.” Cambridge Core, Cambridge University Press, 2 Jan. 2018, http://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/the-british-journal-of-psychiatry/article/role-of-social-media-in-reducing-stigma-and-discrimination/13C35DB424523B4210530288561CE615.
“GHO | World Health Statistics Data Visualizations Dashboard | Suicide.” World Health Organization, World Health Organization, apps.who.int/gho/data/node.sdg.3-4-viz-2?lang=en.
Gulliver, Amelia, et al. “Perceived Barriers and Facilitators to Mental Health Help-Seeking in Young People: a Systematic Review.” BMC Psychiatry, BioMed Central, 30 Dec. 2010, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3022639/.
March, John S, et al. “The Treatment for Adolescents With Depression Study (TADS): Long-Term Effectiveness and Safety Outcomes.” Archives of General Psychiatry, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Oct. 2007, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17909125.
“Mental Illness.” National Institute of Mental Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/mental-illness.shtml.
“Mental Illness Stigma: Concepts, Consequences, and Initiatives to Reduce Stigma.” European Psychiatry, Elsevier Masson, 19 Sept. 2005, http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0924933805000908.
“Psychotherapies.” National Institute of Mental Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/psychotherapies/index.shtml.