Last week was nationally recognized as Mental Illness Awareness Week. The U.S. Congress has devoted the first full week of October to raising awareness about mental health conditions for almost the past 25 years. The World Health Organization recognizes October 10th as World Mental Health Day to raise awareness across the globe about the same issues. President Obama declared May as Mental Health Awareness month. Even with these dedicated efforts, mental illnesses remain heavily stigmatized and misunderstood by the general public.
Initiating discourse about mental health is a significant part of raising awareness. Conversations do not have to start at global levels. Talking to just one other person, with or without a mental health condition, is a beginning. One-on-one interactions can grow into group conversations, moving toward community level discussions, and the potential for education and awareness keeps growing.
In an effort to engage people who deal directly with mental illness and the associated difficulties, Healthshire.com – in partnership with Sage Neuroscience Center, a premier multidisciplinary mental health clinic in New Mexico – administered a Mental Illness Awareness Week Questionnairre. The survey was given as an optional form to fill out when patients checked in for their appointments. Approximately 150 people responded.
Less than one percent of the responders reported that the general public is “very informed” on mental health issues. 20% found the public to be “somewhat informed,” 64% believe the public is “minimally informed,” and 15% think the general public is “not informed at all.”
Participants were asked about the level of stigma related to mental illness they have experienced. 54% have experienced considerable stigma, 27% reported experiencing significant stigma, 16% minimal stigma, and 3% have experienced no stigma at all.
Social support is an important factor for getting better, for both physical and psychological ailments. 30% of responders reported having significant support for their mental health problems from family and friends. 31% reported considerable support, 31% reported minimal support, and 8% reported having no support at all.
Several themes emerged from each of the following questions that participants were asked.
What encouraged you or a loved one to make the decision to get professional help?
The main message conveyed in people’s answers reflected the desire to improve quality of life. Prominent themes included seeking help because of serious suicidal ideation, reaching out after a recent suicide attempt, realizing help was needed, receiving encouragement from family and friends, experiencing difficulty with daily functioning, wanting to improve life for children, and wanting to improve relationships.
What do you think would help overcome stigma associated with mental illness?
Answers included more awareness, introducing mental health issues in high school and college classes, having more conversations revolving around mental health, more people adopting nonjudgmental attitudes, education at the community level, increasing research, more publicity/media attention/increased awareness of celebrities with mental health issues, encouraging people with mental illnesses to be more vocal about their stories, patient-to-patient education, seminars or training on mental health issues in the workplace, mental health training for law enforcement and emergency personnel, more government support, and increased funding for mental health services and programs.
What were the greatest challenges you or your loved ones have experienced trying to get professional help?
Challenges included stigma, financial burden, insurance issues, workplaces being unaccommodating, lack of good providers, acceptance (both self-acceptance and acceptance from others), having adequate social support, fear of being judged, having timely access to care, patience from others, understanding from others, severity of symptoms (being too depressed, anxious, etc.), and not being taken seriously by others.
What would you want people to know about mental illness?
What do you think? What stigma have you dealt with? What pushed you to get help? We want to hear from you, so leave a comment below!