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Stigma toward mental health is truly an epidemic

Sandusky Register - 11/17/2017

Last week, I had to call off work and cancel eight patients because my son became ill. While I was home, scrolling the "news feed" a.k.a. Facebook, I read multiple posts regarding others health concerns.

I read of a person diagnosed with POTS, who was also placed on bed rest for her bronchitis; a child who was diagnosed with scarlet fever just a few days prior; a person who fell down and caused serious injury to her rear-end; someone else shared an image of insulin levels; another person took an image of herself receiving her chemotherapy and, of course, the common cold and flu posts.

This triggered a thought; why are people so publicly willing to post medical symptoms and diagnosis or take a selfie lying in bed resting, but not share the mental health symptoms or daily struggles. I have discussed this countless times. The stigma toward mental health is truly an epidemic. When a person is unwilling to share, it forces them to internalize the struggles and the pain, isolates them from others, and focuses more on being "different" than being the same.

Now, I am not expecting everyone to post on social media their mental health diagnosis, struggles or treatment. I am more realistic than that. What I would like though if a person can share their story with just one. Tell one person-- a family member, a coworker or a friend. Just share with someone what the struggle is, diagnosis is, or process of treatment. My view is this; the more people talk, the more people know; the more we know, the better we understand.

Being open and honest about mental health diagnosis can be the first step in creating a support team - a group of individuals that truly support you as an individual without judgment. Creating a support team is helpful in recovery, preventing relapse, encouraging treatment and most of all compassion and understanding.

Eight years ago, my aunt passed away with cancer. During the final stages of her life, she resided in my mother's home. The entire family worked together to support my aunt, provide transportation to her chemotherapy treatments, doctors' appointments, organize medications for the week, prepare food and anything else that was required.

The family did this because it was a way of support. The family was informed of my aunt's diagnosis and treatment plan. It was discussed - the frequency of treatment and medication management, side effects and techniques to offer support. Again, I ask why the difference with mental health. If you are a person who has been diagnosed with a mental health disorder decide what it is that you are comfortable sharing.

Generally, if a person has cancer, they share the diagnosis. They call it what it is, the duration of illness, and the impact on the individual's life. Mental health does not need to be different. Practice what you want to say. Some find it effective to write a script.

Sharing personal information puts a person in a vulnerable position. It can be uncomfortable. So organizing thoughts can be effective. Let your friends or family know what they can do. Be specific, share what you need, or want. Remember that no one is psychic. People only know what we are willing to say. If you have triggers, then share those so your support team can better support you and help you.

Remember that the only thing in life that is a guarantee is the choices that you make. We only have control over our own thoughts, feelings and behaviors. It is impossible to control another person's reactions. If you take the brave step to share with someone, confide in a person regarding your own mental health diagnosis, please remember that if a person responds with negativity it is not because of you. It is more than likely due to the individual's own ignorance, or misunderstanding of the diagnosis.

Rachel Velishek is a licensed professional clinical counselor with Fisher-Titus Behavioral Health, Fisher-Titus Medical Park 2, Suite C, 282 Benedict Ave., Norwalk. Her office can be reached at 419-668-0311. For more information on Fisher-Titus Behavioral Health, visit fishertitus.org/behavioral-health.

 
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