As we take time to consider how to improve our lives and the lives of others in 2016, consider making mental health awareness a goal for yourself, friends, and family. The election year has shed light on the importance of addressing the challenges of the behavioral healthcare industry, but mental illness remains an uncomfortable topic for many. Help break the silence this year—your willingness to discuss mental health openly could save a life.
The need for mental health awareness is as important as it has ever been. Roughly one in five adults will be affected by mental illness. That accounts for about 43.8 million people, but doesn’t factor the colleagues, friends, and family members within the patient’s support structure; were that the case, mental illness would affect almost everyone. Understanding and communication is key, especially with those affected and those who are unfamiliar with the intricacies of the field.
One of the major impediments to mental health awareness is the heavy stigma surrounding the topic. Mental illness is frequently viewed as a personal shortcoming, or the result of inadequate fortitude in handling the day-to-day stresses of life. The prejudice has created a general silence on the topic out of embarrassment or fear of judgement, deterring about 30 percent of people with some form of mental illness from seeking treatment. The overall lack of awareness and compassion for those afflicted has made it easier for many to simply ignore the condition than to get help.
Mental health is an issue of national importance, and for that reason a single individual’s efforts may seem fruitless in effecting change. But in this case, it is precisely at the individual level that the most meaningful reforms occur. The following examples are just three of the ways you can help to bring the subject of mental health out from behind closed doors and into the public space:
1. Learn the facts.
Mental illness is neither a reflection of poor upbringing, nor lack of character. It is an actual disorder like any other, and for that reason demands the same consideration as any primary care diagnosis. The good news is that, as in primary care, mental illness is treatable.
2. Approach with an open mind, not judgement.
One of the most significant forms of support for a friend or family member undergoing issues of mental health is to simply provide an ear. Listening can be an incredibly powerful means of healing and promotes empathy.
3. Become resolved to eliminate stigma.
The stigmas associated with mental illness have perpetuated misinformation and ignorance for far too long. Stamping out stereotypes requires recognition, then later involves reeducation, but it begins on the individual level, with you.
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