Educate Yourself About Mental Health Stigmas

chase reppen
Summer 2017 Provider Outreach Intern, Chase Reppen pictured above.

Aquinas College junior Chase Reppen served as a summer 2017 intern at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan in the Provider Outreach department. During his few months spent working at Blue Cross, he created a cultural sensitivity online training program for health care providers. College-aged students so often suffer with mental health and the stigma that surrounds those illnesses, but stay silent about needing help. Chase spoke up about his own mental health and a few things one can do to educate themselves about the issue.

As a young man, I became aware of the stigma surrounding mental health after noticing that fellow students were seen as outsiders once they started going to therapy. Knowing this, I never told anyone I was seeing a therapist during my parents’ divorce.

Looking back now, I can see that my peers were shunned due to lack of knowledge about the important role that behavioral health therapy can play in helping people cope with life’s many challenges. I learned more about this when, as an intern at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan this summer, I got involved in Communications’ Mind-Body Health Campaign.

As part of the campaign, Blue Cross is working to educate members and customers about the connection between mental health and physical health, as well as behavioral health issues and mental health stigmas.

My supervisor asked me to do some research on mental health stigma and write about it as part of my internship. I discovered there are many reasons why people don’t use mental health care services, including the following:

  • A lack of knowledge (like my peers and I)
  • A fear of being seen as “weird” or “crazy”
  • A belief that mental health care services are useless
  • A belief that friends and family can serve as a replacement for mental health care services
  • A fear of the side effects that medication, such as antidepressants, may have
  • A fear of judgment

These fears, beliefs and lack of knowledge can all lead to needless suffering. If my classmates and I would have taken the time to learn more about mental health treatment and the stigma surrounding it, we could have eased the paths of many of our fellow students.

Here are a few things you can do:

  • Educate yourself about mental illness. I found that the National Alliance on Mental Illness is a good place to start.
  • Be aware of your attitudes and behaviors, and try to see everyone as an individual, not a label.
  • Choose your words carefully so you don’t offend someone who may be affected by mental illness.
  • Take a supportive attitude toward mental health services and people who need them.
  • Don’t contribute to mental illness stigmas.
  • Support those with mental illnesses; treat them like a person and not an outsider.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in five adults experience mental illness in a given year. And many of those individuals suffer in silence. By eliminating the mental health stigma, we can help more people get the help they need to enjoy fruitful, healthy lives.

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Photo Credit: Matus Laslofi

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