Well Being

It’s Time To Take The Stigma Out Of Mental Illness

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shutterstock_198962264Opening the discussion about mental illness has been a long time coming. I have a history of mental illness in my family. I unfortunately don’t know all of the details, but I do know what I have been told by my mother about my grandmother and my father. Late in her life, my grandmother suffered from paranoid delusions, possibly related to PTSD after her time spent in Germany during World War II. My father was very unstable growing up, and I believe he is now medicated for a mental illness.

These issues are hard to talk about, but they are so worth discussing. I feel that personally, in my life, I would have been much more comfortable growing up and would have blamed myself less for many of my family issues if I had understood that mental illness was the elephant in the room.

Because I didn’t understand what was going on, I often blamed myself. I don’t struggle with mental illness today, but I do struggle with anxiety after witnessing all I saw as a child. Even worse, my dad and I are not close today, but we are trying to mend our relationship. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that if he was diagnosed with mental illness 20 years ago, and if mental illness was a more accepted topic, we would be closer today.

It’s time we take the stigma out of mental illness. Most people are shocked to hear that 20 percent of adults experienced mental illness within the past year, according to a 2012 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration report. This boils down to one in five American adults over the age of 18, or 45.6 million people. With numbers like these, it is highly likely that someone you love or someone in your social circle struggles with mental illness.

We can do our part to talk more about mental illness and make it an accepted topic of conversation. On the national level, efforts are being made to raise awareness in the role mental health plays in both individual and community wellness.

In the state of California, the same statistics apply: One in five California adults are in need of mental health support. In order to provide effective treatment, mental health parity laws must be enforced to require health insurers to offer treatment and services for both mental health and addiction, with equivalent coverage to physical healthcare.

But the fight for mental health awareness does not come easy. Though parity laws are in place, not all health insurers are willing to comply. In 2013, mega-insurance provider Kaiser was fined $4 million by the Department of Managed Health Care for limiting access to mental health services; Kaiser is currently appealing the hefty fine.

California is the perfect example of a state that continues to push for fair treatment of mental health issues, to both support the individual and the economy. Mental health issues left untreated place a heavy burden on the economy, to the tune of $105 billion in lost productivity per year. A government, a workplace, and a health insurance provider that supports mental health without prejudice can reduce turnover rates, lower healthcare costs, and improve productivity by decreasing absences.

The topic of mental health and substance abuse care is not an easy one to tackle. In years past, medical needs related to mental health and substance abuse have gotten the short end of the stick. Recent federal laws, as well as Obamacare, are working to turn the tides. The Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act was passed in 2010, requiring health insurance plans to offer mental health and substance abuse treatment equivalent to physical health services.

These laws are important for each and every one of us—you never know when a mental health or substance abuse issue may strike you or someone in your family. Organizations like University Behavioral Health of Denton are working to support government initiatives at the ground level. Once equal opportunity mental health services are made available through health insurance, effective, long-term treatment may be needed at a facility like UBH, “Our inpatient and day hospital services offer supportive and compassionate care for children, adolescents, adults and mature adults through specialty programs that are tailored to meet the needs of our patients.”

If you or a family member struggle with a mental health issue, it is comforting to know that the government and major organizations are on your side. It may be tough to talk about mental health, but speaking freely can change the way we view the conversation as a nation. Talking about mental health in the same way that we talk about physical health can help those suffering in silence to get effective treatment.

(Image: KieferPix/Shutterstock)