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Erasing the Stigma

Society has put ta label on mental illness, and it stops many from getting help and getting better.

by Jo Valenti, BSN, RN, Cumberland County Mental Health and Addictions Board

The times we live in are stressful. People are concerned about everyday things and that anxiety can easily become difficult, if not impossible, to manage. Everyone, it seems, is affected by these issues in either large or small ways. What can we do to cope?

We need to pay attention to ourselves—our mood, our worries, and our feelings. Ask ourselves: “Am I so stressed out that I’m finding it difficult to get through the day?” The first step to wellness is to recognize these fundamentals. Acknowledging that we may need help is essential. Otherwise, there is little chance that we will eliminate the negative.

Admittedly, there is stigma attached to any kind of mental illness. The dictionary definition of stigma is a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person. If a person has a mental illness that is certainly not a disgrace. Society has unfortunately conferred stigma on mental illness where it definitely does not belong!

This unwarranted stigma prevents many people from getting help and getting better. So, when mental health is at risk, we first need to overcome our personal reluctance to treatment. We need to prioritize our mental health, and, despite the stigma, find the proper treatment. Making that first phone call can be daunting, but it is the first step toward wellness. Also, family and friends of a person with mental illness need to recognize their own prejudices and put aside reluctance to accept the problem and be helpful to their loved one.

Here in Cumberland County there are a variety of services available where people can find help to get started on the journey to cope with mental illness. On the Cumberland County website is a comprehensive resource that lists the available resources locally:

There are many pathways to mental health. Some people choose formal therapy. Therapists trained to work with someone for the first time will skillfully work with the individual to uncover the issues. A treatment plan is developed and the need for any medications will be carefully considered. Regular therapy, whether one on one or in a group, is essential for progress. There is no “one size fits all” for mental health treatment and recovery, just as there is none for any other illness. Some people prefer self-care, support groups or being in nature.

Keeping a positive outlook is also important. Many brilliant and highly successful people have found a way to cope and live with mental illness while contributing to their communities and society as a whole. So, never give up and never stop searching for the combination of therapy, medications, and support that works for you or your loved one. Throughout life everyone changes and must learn how to adapt to those changes.

Persons with mental illness are no different in that regard. We all benefit from growth, especially growth that comes from successfully meeting challenges. We become more resilient and well-rounded individuals. Those persons who have personally overcome the challenge of mental illness are in a better position to show empathy and compassion to others. So, rather than viewing this as a disability, view it as a way to give back and improve the lives of those around us. Becoming part of the solution brings personal satisfaction.

In next month’s column we will explain some of the activities of the Cumberland County Mental Health and Addictions Board.

Minding Your Mind