Let’s face it, sometimes it can be hard to admit you need help. It can be even more difficult when the struggle involves something that carries a negative stigma. The stigma associated with mental illness can often be as hard (if not harder) to deal with than the symptoms. This may prevent those affected from speaking out or seeking help in fear of feeling judged.
Each year millions of Americans face the reality of living with a mental health condition. During the month of May, the National Alliance on Mental Illness are working to bring awareness to this issue. While feeling sad, stressed or worried is certainly a regular part of life, these same emotions -depending on severity and duration- can also be a symptom of deeper issues involving our mental health. This is why it’s more important than ever that we all work together to break down misconceptions and promote recovery for healthy communities.
To answer some questions concerning mental health awareness, we reached out to Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Jessica Rothman. Jessica is based in Chicago and has been practicing Marriage and Family Therapy since 2011. We’ve asked her to help us join the conversation about the stigma attached to mental illness.
PS: What does it mean to have a mental illness?
JR: Everybody struggles with mental health from time to time. We can feel depressed about our job or about something happening in our life which is completely normal. What makes it different for those who have a more serious issue is when it starts disrupting every aspect of our lives. That is when it’s important to ask yourself : Is this fleeting or consistent? If it’s consistent it can indicate a more serious mental health issue.
PS: Why do you think it’s difficult for those who suffer from mental illness to come forward?
JR:It is Stigma. In our society we are programed to put our emotions to the side. It’s about success being strong; it stems from our Puritan ideals of not wanting to look weak.
I like to use the analogy of a car: You are on the highway of life and every so often you need to bring your car in for an oil change or a tune up. Sometimes it can take awhile to get repairs, other times it is only a quick check in for fine tuning. That is how I see therapy. It’s important to check in on your emotional health from time to time and talk about things that you might need help getting through – that can also mean the good things too.
PS: What are first steps someone might take if they are concerned about their mental health?
JR: The first thing to ask yourself is is this fleeting or consistent? Is this pervasive in every aspect of your life? If it affects your life all the time it’s important to seek the help you need. If you sprained your ankle, the first thing you would do would be to see a doctor. It’s important to think about this when it comes to your mental health as well and seek the professional help you might need, just as you would for a physical issue.
PS: What advice would you give to families of those suffering from a mental illness?
JR:That it is a normal thing and it can be worked through. Less than 1% of mental health issues last a lifetime. It is something that your loved one can work through. It’s important to support them and remind them there is nothing wrong with who they are.
PS: Since May is Mental Health Awareness month, what stigma would you like to shatter?
JR:The media like to paint a untrue picture of what it means to see a therapist. It s not sitting on couch telling an unresponsive person your problems like Signund Freud. It is about sharing the good and bad feelings in your life. It is a collaborative experience that is solution focused, and sometimes only lasts a few months for some people.