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Is the Stigma of Mental Illness Preventing You From Seeking Treatment?

Worried About Mental Health
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Mental illnesses are more common than cancer, diabetes or heart disease, according to the National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH). Although mental health disorders afflict one in four people, up to 75 percent don’t receive the treatment they need. People who face serious physical illnesses usually seek necessary medical care and support from family and friends, but much too often, mental illness remains a taboo subject.

New Study Uncovers Reasons for Avoidance

Researchers who reviewed 144 studies involving 90,000 subjects found that treatment barriers included the stigma of using mental health services or receiving mental illness treatment. It affected young people, those from minority ethnic groups, military personnel and health care professionals most. According to a published in Psychological Medicine, participants also reported shame, embarrassment, fear of divulging their condition and confidentiality concerns. Some people with mental illnesses felt they could handle their problem on their own or believed they didn’t need help, but untreated mental health problems including schizophrenia and bipolar disorder can worsen disturbing symptoms.Researchers concluded that the reluctance to accept the mental health patient label has a toxic effect. Postponing seeing doctors for months or years can hinder recovery.

Exploring the Discrimination Factor

Dr. David Reznik, a psychiatrist at Bay Behavioral Health and Raritan Bay Medical Center in Perth Amboy, New Jersey, reports that stigma occurs when people judge you based on personal character traits because you have a mental health condition. Intolerance may be obvious and direct such as someone making derogatory remarks about your mental illness or treatment. Or it might be subtle as when people assume you could be unstable, dangerous or violent because you have a mental illness. Harmful effects of stigma can include:
  • Lack of understanding by family, friends and colleagues
  • Discrimination at work or school
  • Difficulty finding housing
  • Bullying, harassment or physical violence
  • Lack of self-esteem or self-empowerment

Dealing With Prejudice

According to Dr. Reznik, your actions can make a difference in how you and others perceive and react to your mental illness. His guidelines can improve your condition and quality of life. Prevent self-doubt and shame. You may have the mistaken belief that your condition is a sign of personal weakness or that you should be able to control it without help. But you can gain self-esteem and overcome destructive self-judgment by seeking psychological counseling, taking medications, educating yourself about your condition and connecting with others facing mental illness challenges. Get treatment. Don’t let the fear of the mental illness label stop you from seeking help. Diagnosis can identify the problem and offer solutions. Treatment can reduce symptoms that interfere with your work and personal life. Stop equating yourself with your illness. You’re a person — not your illness. So instead of calling yourself a schizophrenic, say you have schizophrenia. Rather than labeling yourself as bipolar, think of yourself as having bipolar disorder. Quit isolating yourself. Have the courage to open up to your spouse, family, friends, clergy or other community members you trust for compassion, understanding and support. Get help at school. Discrimination against students with mental health conditions is illegal. Laws require educators at all levels to accommodate students with special needs the best they can. Parents should make sure teachers are aware of their child’s condition to avoid prejudice, obstacles to getting a good education and poor grades. Support GroupJoin a support group. Receive encouragement to get help and manage your mental health issues. Learn how fellow survivors are coping. As you make progress, share your successes to instill courage in members facing similar challenges. Support each other and rejoice in everyone’s mental health improvements. Speak out against stigma. Participate in local and national organizations’ community programs and that educate people with mental illnesses, their families and the general public to help reduce inequality. Express your opinions at events, on the Internet or in letters to the editor.

Why Your Symptoms Need Treatment

Schizophrenia is a chronic, severe and disabling brain disease that affects approximately 1 percent of the population. Over 2 million Americans suffer from this illness in any given year. Terrifying symptoms include hearing internal voices or believing that other people are reading your mind, controlling your thoughts or plotting to harm you. Your disorganized speech and behavior may be incomprehensible or frightening to others. Bipolar disorder is a fairly common yet serious mental illness that affects approximately 5.7 million adult Americans, or about 2.6 percent of the U.S. population age 18 and older every year. Extreme mood swings go from mania’s euphoric highs to depression’s deepest lows. Unusual and severe energy and activity level shifts can inhibit daily functioning. But antipsychotic medications like Seroquel (Quetiapine) and Seroquel XR (Quetiapine XR) can help control these debilitating schizophrenia and bipolar symptoms.

Take Action Today

Don’t let the stigma of mental illness impact you and your loved ones as much or more than the condition itself. The encouraging reality is that mental health disorders are common and treatable. According to the NIMH, most people who receive proper diagnoses and treatment respond well and have optimistic futures. When ongoing medication is necessary, adhering to your doctor-prescribed schedule can help you manage your condition so you can enjoy a full life again.

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