A Therapist's point of view: THE STIGMA OF MENTAL HEALTH
A stigma is when there’s disgrace or shame around a certain circumstance, quality or person. Some examples of stigmas people have are, having certain physical disabilities, certain diseases such as HIV/AIDS, sexual orientation, ethnicity and certain religions, to name a few. One of the biggest stigmas people have is dealing with mental health.
Now, this is just my opinion, but I think the biggest reason for the stigma of mental health is due to ignorance. Ignorance is simply lack of knowledge. We’re going into 2017 and people are still not properly educated on what mental health or treatment for mental disorders is.
We’re not taught in school about maintaining good mental health or improving our emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and with empathy.
The little bit that we are shown about mental health is usually in movies and TV shows. Typically the picture they portray is of a character who hears voices, hallucinates, has severe mood swings or kills people. So the image of mental health we get is of someone being “out of their mind”
It’s no wonder that so many people are hesitant to seek help, out of fear that they’ll seem crazy.
Some mental health diagnosis are more debilitating than others, such as Schizophrenia or Severe Autism. With these disorders, it is believed that there is something neurological or developmentally wrong. There are many people that from a young age showed symptoms of these disorders. Is that their fault?
Why is it that we don’t look at Type 2 Diabetes (a purely preventable disease by exercising, not smoking, and maintaining a healthy diet) with stigma? But when it comes to mental disorders, something that they didn’t create because it was either genetic or caused by difficult circumstances in their life, we want to look at it with shame?
SO WHY IS OUR MENTAL HEALTH SO IMPORTANT?
The short answer is, because it affects everything in your life.
The way that you talk to yourself, how you treat others and the way you behave affects everything else in your life; such as relationships, vocation, and health.You can be the most talented person in your industry, be with your ideal man/woman, make lots of money, but if your mentality is not healthy, you won’t be able to truly enjoy those things, or even worse, mess it all up.
Let me ask you this. Why is it important to maintain good physical health? Why maintain a healthy diet, move your body regularly and drink plenty of water? To have a healthy body of course.
So what is wrong with learning to control your emotions and behaviors? To understand your patterns of thinking and do something to change it? To practice relaxation techniques, learn to improve your mood and practice self-reflection? Well, nothing is wrong with that. Maintaining good mental health is a priority in order to live a healthy, satisfying, happy life. That’s because everything in life comes down to our mentality.
HOW DO WE LEARN TO MANAGE THESE EMOTIONS AND NOT LET OUR EMOTIONS CONTROL US?
You can learn on your own by reading or watching self-help materials. Here’s a great article on how to improve your emotional intelligence.
Learning from your mistakes will naturally help you grow as well. Or if you’re lucky enough to have someone in your life that is emotionally healthy, they can be a great teacher. But one of the best ways for you to learn how to control those emotions is through outpatient therapy. I look at therapy as “school for your emotions”
You can read about the different levels of therapy here.
Seeking outside help with something you’re struggling with or want to improve is actually a sign of a mature person.
If you’re having suicidal thoughts, going to the hospital and getting help is a sign of health and maturity.
Not that people who don’t seek help are immature and unhealthy. Instead, the misinformation they’ve been given keeps them away from getting the help they want and need. If more people understood how therapy works, more people would get the help they need. And when they get help, other areas of their life also improve.
My hope is that one day talking about taking care of your mind, practicing good mental health, and seeking help and guidance is embraced and accepted.
About the author.
Liza J Alvarado is a professional counselor in private practice. She serves adolescents, adults, and Spanish speaking families in the Lehigh Valley, PA area.