Jennifer Gomez, MSS, LCSW
Mental Health & Physical Health: The Unfair Way We Treat Mental Illness
I’ve worked in mental health my entire adult life and I can say without a doubt there is a stigma around mental illness and receiving mental health treatment like counseling. Recently, I’ve seen more recognition of how real mental illness is and I’ve seen companies do more to support mental health needs. Take for example Sesame Place becoming an Autism Friendly Center by creating opportunities for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) to enjoy the park, or my local library that specifically provides programs for children who need less sensory input. Companies are doing more to support the mental health of their employees by offering EAP programs. Granted, EAP only covers about 5 therapy sessions, but I’m willing to accept that as a great starting point to equality between mental health and physical health.
Have you ever been worried about discussing your mental health struggles or the emotional challenges of your children because of what people might think? If your leg or arm was broken or if you had appendicitis, would you feel the same embarrassment, guilt, or anxiety? Mental illness is identified as mental or emotional weakness, which has created a culture of judgment. As a mental health professional, I want to challenge biases about mental health and those who have mental illnesses.
Consider the questions: “If it was a disease or an injury, would I treat this person differently?” “If my child had asthma instead of anxiety, would I still feel embarrassed talking about it?” Whatever your answer was, I encourage to ask yourself why. When we begin to treat mental health the same as physical health, it benefits everyone. Another bias against mental illness is that it should be fixed easily or, “It’s all in your head.” As anyone who has struggled with depression or anxiety can tell you, unfortunately it just isn’t that easy. Mental illnesses are based on chemical imbalances in the brain, something we have as little control over as the physical diseases we suffer from. Just like diseases require medical attention, mental illness cannot and should not be treated by individuals on their own.
I can also tell you that physical and mental health are interwoven. Often, mental illness impacts people’s physical health and this is when others start to recognize the need for support. Maybe the person who was quiet or withdrawn didn’t receive much attention, but if that person begins missing work because they are sick then people take notice. Yes, it is certainly easier to see when someone has a physical injury or disease based on their physical symptoms, but if we all were more accepting of mental illness, those signs and symptoms would be clearer too. According to the National Council for Behavioral Health, almost half of all adults in the US will suffer from mental illness in their lifetime and half of all mental illnesses begin by age 14. If we start treating mental health with the same importance as physical health, think about how many more children and adults will receive the support they need.
If you or your child are suffering from a mental illness, please feel welcome to contact me and I will support you in receiving the help you deserve.