Reducing mental health stigma

It is not every day that someone comes across an individual who is experiencing a psychiatric crisis.  Chances are those who do, would not know how to respond.  What would you do if someone you knew was experiencing a new onset of a psychotic episode?  What kind of things would you assume?  Who would you call?  Good news is that there’s a proven new program that teaches all of us what to do.  Now it’s up to us to get the word out and come together to get this program passed by Congress. Working in the psychiatric emergency room and psychiatric inpatient units for Los Angeles County, I have seen the worst of the worst of mental illness.  However, not everyone can understand the barriers the sufferers of mental illness face, and the stigma they receive, let alone what the signs and symptoms are of mental health crisis. Some of the most common myths about mental illness according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration in October 2009 are: there is no hope for mental illness, people with mental illness are violent and unpredictable, children do not experience mental illness, and I cannot do anything for someone with mental health needs.  Unfortunately one of the most damaging myths is that it’s the parents’ fault where bad parents beget bad kids.  It is important to address and change people’s attitudes and the way they think in an effort to provide better treatment.

Mental illness impacts 9.6 million adults in the United States according to the National Institute of Mental Health in 2012.  Regardless of age, race, ethnicity, class or gender those who suffer from mental disorders require appropriate treatment.  Mental illness has become so prevalent that educating American citizens on what the signs are of a psychiatric crisis and what to do and where to refer are essential in providing effective treatment.  However there still exists this growing stigma surrounding the identification and treatment of mental disorders.

The National Association of Social Workers (2012) recognizes one of the major barriers to receiving psychiatric treatment is stigma.  These false beliefs can cause serious risks for those who are suffering from a mental disorder and their families and their communities.  It is important to battle these stigmas and increase education on the signs and symptoms of a psychiatric disorder as well what resources are readily available to those who are experiencing a mental health crisis.  The Mental Health First Aid Act of 2013 S. 153/ H.R. 274 is the proposed policy to do just that and attacks stigmatization head on.

Mental Health First Aid Act, if enacted, will authorize $20 million in grants to fund Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) training across the United States.  So many states are already using the MHFA training model which educates their students on what the signs and symptoms are of mental illness and how to refer to appropriate resources. This training does not limit itself to a particular target population.  MHFA is designed to educate anyone from law enforcement, educators, hospital staff or persons who choose to make a difference within their community.  MHFA has shown significant results.  After taking the training course, trainees feel more confident in helping someone with a mental illness as well as decreasing their stigma against the disorders.

Resources such as MHFA are extremely beneficial and cost effective for a community.  Having an awareness of mental illness in each home can create a community of healthy living.  It takes awareness and education to change a social issue.  MHFA can also provide participants with knowledge and strategies that can prevent a future untreated mental illness. According to NAMI in 2010 half of all lifetime cases of mental disorders begin by age 14.  It takes one person to intervene and understand the illness to provide appropriate treatment and resources for the next step.

Deandra Pedroza is a Masters of Social Work graduate student at USC.



Published: Dec. 18, 2014 - Volume 13 - Issue 36