Person to Person: Conquering The Stigma Of Mental Illness

By Judi Light Hopson, Emma H. Hopson and Ted Hagen
McClatchy-Tribune News Service.

Have you noticed that mental illness seems to be on the rise in our society? But would you also agree that there is a huge stigma attached to it?

For example, if your cousin is bipolar or your spouse has panic attacks, you can’t necessarily sit down and discuss these stressful issues with them. It can be embarrassing and uncomfortable to talk about these concerns.

Issues related to mental and emotional illnesses are the “last frontier” in terms of difficulties we are willing to face. But, it’s high time we moved these issues out of the closet.

If you have a loved one who has mental health issues, or you have issues yourself, you’ll probably find it difficult to look for resources.

“Luckily, my husband found information about his anxiety disorder on the Internet,” a friend of ours told us. “My husband was able to show the doctor the printout, so the doctor could understand more about what my husband was experiencing.”

Remember those years that we couldn’t intelligently discuss women’s rights or gay rights or other sensitive issues? However, in today’s world, it’s acceptable to step forward with almost any problem, except mental health issues.

Well, it’s high time we all got mental illness and related issues out on the table. And we all need to learn how to speak the language of these issues.

Imagine for a moment that you went to work and told your boss this: “I have felt anxious and depressed for days because I think you’re going to fire me. Can you help me through this, or give me some comfort?”

Crazy notion, right? An employee couldn’t conceivably admit to his boss such emotional pain, or request help for it.

However, that gunman in your area who was reported in the news this week or the father who killed his family might have needed early intervention.

“We need to find ways to start talking about emotional needs,” says a psychologist we know who counsels veterans at a large VA Medical Center. “That’s really the starting point. Men, especially, are taught to ignore their emotional needs and toughen up.”

Here are some tips to understanding the basics of mental health:

Know your own emotional needs. Maybe you need conversation with a friend every day, or you like to read or take an afternoon walk. Ignoring your basic needs can make you feel very unhappy.

Be on the lookout for good resources. For example, be sure to let other people know about a good self-help book you found useful. An excellent book on dealing with codependency or marriage issues can literally save someone’s life.

Actively keep a list of good counselors. If you are an employer, community leader, or leader in a faith-based organization, stay in touch with mental health professionals you can refer other people to.

“One of my employees recently confessed she felt suicidal,” says a woman we’ll call Gina. “I was able to make a couple of calls and get her in front of a great counselor.

We all need to close the gap in speeding up the process of getting help. Taking too long to get someone the help they need is always the real tragedy.”
(Judi Light Hopson is the Executive Director of the stress management website USA Wellness Cafe at . Emma Hopson is an author and a nurse educator. Ted Hagen is a family psychologist.)

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