Doing Your Part to Decrease the Mental Health Stigma

Doing Your Part to Decrease the Mental Health Stigma

May is Mental Health Awareness Month

Yes, we have made great progress in decreasing the stigma that exists regarding mental
health issues and related treatment. However, we still have a long way to go. Several
role models have recently “come out” in the media in an attempt to normalize mental
health issues and to encourage open, honest discussion and treatment. The Duke and
Duchess of Cambridge, Prince Harry and Lady Gaga for example, recently have shared
their own struggles and emphasized that it is time to stop hiding mental health struggles
and to discuss these issues in the same manner that we would discuss physical health
issues. We all need to do our part!

What You Can Do.

Educate yourself about the possible symptoms of mental illness:

o significant changes in appetite/ eating / weight or sleeping patterns
o loss of interest in pleasurable activities
o loss of interest in sex or sexual problems
o decrease in motivation / energy / grades / work productivity
o extreme tiredness
o withdrawal from others and decreased social contacts
o feelings of sadness / unhappiness or increased tearfulness
o feelings of hopelessness / helplessness / despair
o thoughts of self-harm or suicide

o overwhelming feelings of anxiety / fear / rapid heartbeat / shortness of breath /
sweating / dry mouth/ lightheadedness / dizziness
o physical symptoms such as back pain / muscle pain and tension / chest pains / stiff
neck / general aches and pains / headaches / stomach issues / constipation /
o high blood pressure
o trouble concentrating / slowed thinking and decision making
o decreased accomplishments

 increased anger / irritability / frustration / guilt feelings
 self-medicating with alcohol, drugs, gambling or sex
 literally hearing or seeing things that others tell you are not there
 literally hearing voices telling you to do things or believe certain things
 feeling as though people are out to get you, steal your thoughts, harm you in some
way, broadcast to you over the TV or via some other means

Point out your concerns to others who may be struggling:
If you have concerns about someone you care about, gently point out your concerns to
them. Educate as to the symptoms of mental illness and how you see those symptoms
expressed in them. Encourage them to reach out for help. An option is to start with their
primary care physician or nurse practitioner.

Share your own struggles with others:
If you are struggling with mental health symptoms or receiving treatment, share that
information with others. This is part of normalizing the situation and letting others know
that they are not alone and that it is OK to speak about their struggles and receive
effective help. Once you open up and share, you will be surprised how many others will
also share and may feel as though they have “permission” to do so.

Be aware of your own attitudes and judgements:
Whether you are a patient or a loved one, we all need be very mindfully aware of our
preconceived notions about mental illness and related treatments. We often refer to those
who have a physical diagnosis as struggling with cancer, diabetes, migraine headaches
etc. We do not say that they are those diagnoses. However, we often say that people are
depressed, anxious, schizophrenic etc. People are not those things. That is not their
identity. Let’s change our attitudes, wording and expressions related to these diagnoses.
Correct others when you hear that their expressions or their attitudes are not conducive to
the goal of decreasing the mental health stigma. Encourage others to look at the positive
qualities in everyone, regardless of their struggles.

Advocate for mental health reform:
Many who struggle with mental health and or drug/alcohol issues are treated as criminals
by the judicial system. More and more court systems have a mental health court in place,
although this is not true in general. We must advocate for the mental health treatment of
those who often end up in the court system and ending criminalization of the mentally ill.
Likewise, we all need to speak with insurance carriers, local state and national mental
health organizations and legislatures to educate and urge them to show parity between
mental health and physical health issues.

What Providers Can Do.

Point out the symptoms you are witnessing:
Many physicians, nurses, dentists, physical therapists, massage therapists, and other
providers are hesitant to share the concerns they are witnessing in their patients. I am
often told that they do not want to offend anyone. This reasoning challenges the
Hippocratic Oath to do no harm. It is not in the consumer’s best interest and actually
promotes the mental health stigma.

Make a referral for the appropriate level of care:
Making a referral for the appropriate level of care in mental health may be the most
helpful thing you can do for your patient. In addition to being aware of the above
mentioned mental health symptoms, it would also be helpful to become educated about
different levels of care in mental health. There is individual treatment usually on a
weekly or biweekly basis or there is intensive outpatient treatment for those who need
more than they are able to achieve individually. This level of care typically consists of
attendance 3 days per week, 3 hours per day for approximately 7 weeks. Partial
Hospitalization is even more intense, where an individual will attend 5 days per week and
return home at night. Inpatient or Residential treatment involves 24 hour care for a
period of time. A referral to a qualified mental health professional providing several
levels of care will assist you in determining the most appropriate disposition for your

Make a referral when asked to complete disability paperwork:
Many providers are asked to complete FMLA or other disability paperwork on behalf of
their patients who are experiencing mental health issues or severe stress, depression or
anxiety within the work environment. The best thing those providers can do is to again
educate their patients about the symptoms of mental illness and refer them for the
appropriate level of care. They should not be sitting at home with time off, hoping to get
better. Many of them need higher levels of rehabilitative care, such as an Intensive
Outpatient Program.

Know where to refer:
Have a list of centers where help can be received in a safe, comfortable setting. Check
out their websites. Look at patient testimonials. Those centers and facilities should be
able to provide information regarding levels of care, improvement and success rates.
Share these with your patients. Refer your patients and family members to The National
Alliance for Mentally Ill for additional support.

In conclusion, please remember that many mental health diagnoses are the result of
biochemical imbalances. Although those imbalances can be triggered by life stressors
and poor coping skills to deal with those life stressors, those imbalances are inherent and
genetically predisposed. We all have a responsibility to become educated about mental
health issues and to do our part to decrease the stigma that many are prisoner to on a daily
basis. Educate yourself, your patients, and your loved ones as to where to get effective
help and at the appropriate level of care.

John A. Glovan, Psy.D.
Director, Health and Wellness Program
Co-Founder, The Behavioral Wellness Group
8224 Mentor Ave #208 Mentor OH 44060
P: 440 392 2222 #302 F: 440 565 2349