Mental Health Awareness: End the Stigma

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and so many people – our neighbors, our friends, the owner of our favorite coffee shop – have personally experienced mental health issues. During these next four weeks, our nation will be committed to end the stigma around mental health disorders. At Physician Selected, we strive to help those struggling with all chronic health issues – both mental and physical.

Misinformation about mental health issues can prolong the problem, so we’re giving you the facts. What do we know about mental health in America today? What is the mental health stigma? Let’s break it down.

What are the most common mental health disorders?

There are two main types of mental health disorders: anxiety and mood disorders. There are other categories of mental health disorders (like personality and substance-abuse disorders); however, anxiety and mood disorders are the most common.

Anxiety disorders affect approximately 40 million adults ages 18 and under. This category includes generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and social anxiety disorder. The biggest characteristic of anxiety disorders is feelings of stress during non-stress inducing events; for example, someone who is diagnosed with GAD has anxiety frequently during their everyday routine.

People with mood disorders are more likely to develop an anxiety disorder. Mood disorders include depression, bipolar, and seasonal affective disorder. It’s estimated that 21% of Americans experience a mood disorder in their lifetime. An imbalance of brain chemicals called neurotransmitters is the most common cause of mood disorders. Characteristics of this category include low energy and feelings of hopelessness. 

In 2022, the Adult Prevalence of Mental Illness (AMI) rate was roughly 20% – equivalent to nearly 50 million Americans suffering from a mental health disorder. And mental illness rates are on the rise, especially for young adults: recent studies show that depression rates have tripled since the pandemic.

What is mental health stigma?

Although mental health disorders are becoming more and more common in the United States, over half of those diagnosed with a disorder are left untreated. This phenomenon is largely due to negative beliefs surrounding mental illness – a.k.a. stigma

Misunderstandings and lack of education about mental health can cause stigma. Much of the public still remains in the dark about the rates of mental illness and how to support loved ones who are struggling. Misunderstandings can lead to negative beliefs about those who have been diagnosed with a mental health disorder. Ultimately, stigma can lead to discriminatory practices in our society, the workplace, and even at home. Here are some examples of myths that are derived from mental health stigma:

  • “Mental health disorders are rare”: The belief that mental health issues are abnormal or uncommon is untrue. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that approximately 1 in 4 people globally will experience a mental health issue in their lifetime – that’s a quarter of our global population!
  • “People with mental health issues cannot work effectively”: While individuals with mental health issues may experience some difficulty working, most are as productive as individuals without diagnosed disorders. Because of this misunderstanding, there now exists a gap in the employment rate of those with and without mental health issues. As mental health disorder severity increases, employment rate decreases.
  • “Mental health problems cannot be overcome”: Mental health issues are not permanent. While treatment is often necessary to recover, it is certainly not a lifetime commitment, and many individuals are able to improve their mental health over time. Also, ask your physician about alternative treatment options if prescription medications are not for you. Check out the National Library of Medicine’s discussion of the possible benefits of CBD on mental health. 

How can we help?

When our loved ones struggle with mental health, we can suffer, too. Uncertainty, frustration, and feelings of guilt are all common responses for those who have loved ones struggling with their mental health. If someone you are close to is suffering, here are some easy tips to support them along the way:

  • Practice self-care! Taking care of yourself first is essential to helping those around you. Daily check-ins and journaling practices can help with setting boundaries with loved ones. 
  • Educate yourself on mental illness. Do some research about common disorders and mental health services closest to you.
  • Encourage them to establish a routine. Stability and structure in one’s daily life can help create a sense of balance for the individual experiencing mental health issues.

If you or a loved one is struggling with mental health issues, you are not alone! It can be exhausting trying to find ways to help your friends – and yourself. If you feel you may be suffering from a disorder but don’t know where to start, check out this resource hub from the CDC.