Health column: Dispelling the stigma and myths about mental illness
February 19, 2014
Chances are you know someone with mental illness. It could be a friend, family member, neighbor or acquaintance. Studies show that one in four people experience some kind of mental health issue in their lifetime.
Mental illness is quite common, and yet we as a society often find it difficult to discuss. Why is that?
It's normal to shy away from things that are uncomfortable or unknown. If a friend is depressed, we aren't sure what to say or how to help. If we are depressed or have mental health issues, we fear what others think of us.
The problem with ignoring mental health issues is that it only makes the situation worse. Mental illness left untreated doesn't go away; instead, it often escalates.
Not everyone needs intensive mental health services. Each person is different and treatment should be tailored to those needs. The job of mental health professionals is to help assess needs with clients and together develop a plan of action best suited for them.
My wish would be to end the stigma associated with mental illness so individuals can get help.
I'd also like to dispel some myths about mental illness. Common myths are that people with mental illness are unemployed, can't follow society's rules, are violent, drug addicted, and homeless. While some people with mental illness are struggling with these issues, the vast majority are not.
Most people with mental illness have jobs and homes and are productive members of society.
At El Dorado County Mental Health, we work with community partners to address mental health needs. We strive to ensure quality services are accessible, recovery-oriented and respectful. We conduct community education programs, including the successful "Mental Health First Aid" training series.
We manage a 24/hour Mental Health crisis team. Our crisis workers and counselors respond to emergencies at schools, workplaces and other locations, offering counseling and support to people directly impacted. Several years ago, we sent a team to Schnell School after the school shooting.
We also operate a Psychiatric Health Facility for people in mental health crisis needing in-patient care.
As a public agency, El Dorado County Mental Health has a responsibility to provide services for people who might slip through the cracks, including people without health insurance. We promote a wellness recovery model where clients actively participate in their recovery plan. The plan may include medication, counseling, group and other activities.
Both El Dorado County Mental Health facilities have Wellness Centers. The Wellness Centers provide a safe, supportive environment. Clients attend groups, enhance life and job skills, and learn about community resources. For many clients, the Centers offer critical social interactions and supports.
The good news is that mental illness is treatable. The earlier someone seeks services, the better chances for their recovery.
As leaders in our community, including residents, county leaders and city leaders, we all have the responsibility to the mental health community to assist in reducing the stigma and educating the public about the myths associated with mental illness.
Patricia Charles-Heathers, Ph.D., is the assistant director of El Dorado County Mental Health Services.