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RYAN MCCOMB: Break the stigma: The importance of talking about mental health

A little over a year after the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) turned the world as we know it upside-down, many are struggling with mental health challenges such as increased anxiety and depression, difficulty managing external circumstances and stressors, or new mental health diagnoses. According to the CDC, during late June of 2020, 40 percent of U.S. adults reported they were struggling with mental health issues or substance abuse. These abnormally high numbers have disproportionately affected younger adults, racial and ethnic minority groups, essential workers, and unpaid adult caregivers.

Unfortunately, despite this increase, many who struggle with mental health issues don’t seek help and receive the treatment they need. In fact, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in five Americans experience a mental illness and nearly one in 25, or 10 million adults in America live with a serious mental illness. Unfortunately, nearly 60 percent of adults with a mental illness didn’t receive mental health services in the previous year. There are many reasons why people don’t seek treatment for mental health issues, but one big reason is stigma, which refers to a negative way some people judge those who have a mental health condition.

Since May is recognized as Mental Health Month, it presents an opportunity to educate yourself and others on mental health conditions and treatment options and break the stigma surrounding mental health challenges. Talking openly about mental health can reduce stigma over time. In addition, sometimes taking care of yourself means not doing it all by yourself, especially given the pandemic and other crises that have been affecting our world in recent times.

Some important messages to remember this Mental Health Month are:

1. Self-care tips, which are suggestions that encourage people to regularly do things for themselves that make them feel good, such as practicing yoga or meditation, are important and can help you take care of yourself during difficult times. However, since self-care isn’t always enough, there are other ways of supporting yourself or your loved ones with mental health challenges.

2. Talk with your doctor if you are struggling with mental health concerns, especially if you are unsure about the meaning of your symptoms.

3. Connect with others and consider talk therapy, which may be an appropriate option for you. Talk therapy may be available from counselors, clinical social workers, psychologists and psychiatrists. These providers can help people deal with feelings and behaviors and suggest ways to cope.

In addition, a new way of receiving talk therapy is through telepsychology professionals or behavioral health professionals who provide services virtually through telehealth offerings.

4. Educate yourself by talking to your doctor or using online resources, such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) or PsychHub at www.psychhub.com. The more you know, the more you can dispel misinformation or myths that can increase the stigma around mental illness and hold people back from receiving the treatment they need.

5. If someone you know needs help, listening to them in a comfortable and non-judgmental way can be a good place to start. It’s important to genuinely express your concern and avoid blaming, criticizing, minimizing or assuming things about their experience. If you determine that the crisis is an emergency, or the person expresses a desire or plan to hurt themselves you can contact a lifeline center, such as 1-800-273-TALK (8255) to discover resources in your area or encourage your loved one to call.

Individuals may need mental health support for a variety of reasons, including obtaining help during a stressful time or successfully dealing with a life-long struggle with depression or another serious mental health condition. Even if you are just curious about symptoms of anxiety or depression, Mental Health Month is a good time to have discussions about mental health and do your part to break the stigma.

Ryan McComb is an M.D. at Southwest Medical’s Pahrump Healthcare Center

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