by Veronica Vaiti, LCSW-R
The impact of mental health issues, especially those that go untreated, reaches every single one of us. If you or someone you are personally connected to are struggling with mental health issues then you know firsthand the devastating and extraordinarily painful challenges that come with the territory. And if you are not directly experiencing the struggle of managing mental health issues, frankly it’s foolish to think that the issues and ills of the human psyche that permeate most every aspect of regular usual daily life won’t eventually impact you and your loved ones.
For example, mental health issues manifest in your explosive co-worker, the rude or edgy counter help at the store, your sullen “unfriendly” neighbor, or the driver with road rage behind you on the highway. Or on a more severe level, the devastating tragedies covered in the news – a theft, an assault, a murder or a suicide – all spring forth from the quality and state of the individual’s mental or psychological health (and of course other complicated factors that are out of the scope of this blog).
And yet when we learn of situations such as these we tend to feel briefly the accompanying sadness or annoyance but we then tend to write them off as someone else’s problem or chalk it up to the “craziness” of the world that feels too big to try to tackle. So we turn back to focusing on the immediacies in our own life – really what else can we do?
Yes, life must go on and we must take responsibility for our own lives. Yet as life goes on, here are a few questions for you to ponder…how is someone else’s mental state your responsibility? Why when someone is struggling with mental health issues must they suffer in isolation? And why is it is that many people with mental health issues go untreated or mistreated?
For one, when you or a loved one is faced with a mental health condition it can feel incredibly overwhelming and scary. Some people do not get help due to lack of resources for adequate mental health treatment or lack of knowledge about how to seek out proper care and just not knowing where to turn first. And the most tragic and powerful deterrent for seeking help is the role that the stigma associated with mental health issues plays.
Stigma is the fear of admitting to ourselves and/or to others that something isn’t ok. It’s the fear that the others will learn that we or those we love are struggling with a mental health condition, that something is wrong. Stigma is the fear of what the others might think of us, and the risk of shame and judgment by these others blocks the way of getting the necessary help. What is both infuriating and saddening to us as mental health clinicians is seeing firsthand how placing a higher value on the concern of others opinions can ultimately put many more people at risk.
Knowledge, exposure, normalization and dialogue are all tools used to disarm and disable stigma. Which goes back to the first question we posed to you – why is someone else’s mental health your our responsibility? If we as a collective society were able to increase our knowledge about mental health issues, share and build understanding of those who suffer, learn and acquire proper communication skills for how to talk to and relate to those who suffer, little by little we can shift the tide of awareness and essentially how people are treated for mental health issues.
Unless we increase our awareness about the intricacies of mental health issues and forge a common language and dialogue to address these issues sensitively, compassionately and intelligently, the unnecessary hurts and wounds in life that result from untreated mental health conditions will only continue to surmount.
The good news is that there is A LOT of information available to the public about mental health on the internet alone. And organizations like the National Alliance of the Mentally Ill (NAMI) and The World Health Organization (WHO), to name just a few, have loads of information available online and can provide contact information for local chapters and helpful resources if you or someone you know may be struggling. Although we are reaching the end of May which is known as Mental Health Awareness Month, it’s imperative that we don’t end our efforts to build our knowledge, sensitivity and coping skills so that we all may work towards living more peacefully and productively with one another. Help is available.