Stop the Stigma

July 29th, 2022

Stop the Stigma

By: Monica Bowens, LCSW

As the national mental health crisis becomes more publicized in the media, you’ve probably heard that taking care of your mental health is just as important as taking care of your physical health. So, why is there still a stigma around it?

Historically, mental illness has been a taboo subject, and, in some cultures, it is seen as an embarrassment, a flaw, or even a weakness. This perception of mental illness has led many to suffer in silence, neglecting to receive the care they need. When suffering in silence, one may exude behaviors that might be perceived by others as angry, lazy, emotional, and unreliable. With the proper education, motivation and encouragement, those behaviors caused by mental illness can be reduced.

Having a better understanding of what mental health is and how to take care of it is a great place to start reducing the stigma. When people have more knowledge about a specific topic and see success in their practices, they tend to be more confident in speaking to others about it, opening the door for more organic conversations with loved ones about mental health.

My definition of mental health is the state of being keenly aware when one is experiencing emotions and being able to incorporate the use of healthy, effective coping strategies to reduce the stress response. Personally, I like to do regular check-ins with myself to see how I’m feeling. If I find myself starting to feel stressed or overwhelmed, I allow myself to take the time for a mental break. This can include taking the time to organize, watching a favorite show, taking a walk, talking with my husband or a friend, or just sitting quietly with myself. I encourage my patients to try similar practices but encourage them to tailor them to items they love doing. Whether that be incorporating meditation or deep breathing into your mental break, or doing one thing that makes you laugh or smile. This will not be a one-size-fits-all, what works for you may not work for someone else.

If you notice a change in the effectiveness of your typical coping strategies, it might be time to take a further look into your mental health. Knowing when it’s time to ask for help from a professional is important. Signs and symptoms can look similar in yourself or someone else. These can include:

- A lack of interest in activities you once enjoyed

- Experience a sudden change such as a loss or a new health concern

- Increased feelings of anxiety, depression, anger or

- Intentional or unintentional separation from loved ones

Seeking mental health counseling should not be viewed as a sign of weakness or seem intimidating. Licensed clinical mental health professionals can help you navigate your thoughts and feelings in a way that is individualized to you and your needs. Together, you will identify goals to work towards accomplishing to improve your mental health. If you are not comfortable with talking to a mental health professional such as a licensed clinical social worker, I highly encourage you to turn to a close, trusted friend. Finding someone you feel you can confide in to get your emotions out in a healthy, positive, appropriate manner is the most important thing.

There are also several resources available to those who may not have a person they feel they can trust to talk about their emotions with and aren’t ready to seek professional help. Organizations such as The National Alliance on Mental Illness, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and as of July 16, the 10-digit National Suicide Prevention Lifeline transitioned to an easy-to-remember three-digit number – 988, help connect people with the resources they need.

If you or someone you know could benefit from talking to someone about thoughts, feelings, situations, or problems, do not hesitate to reach out for help. It does not mean that you are unable to handle your own problems. It's a sign of strength and that you value yourself enough to seek help. You do not have to be alone as you go through whatever challenges you may face in this life.

Monica Bowens, LCSW, is a health coach with Pinehurst Medical Clinic’s Wellness Team.