Fighting Stigma in Mental Health

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Mental health affects nearly every aspect of our lives. It’s connected to our physical health and it helps determine how healthy and happy we are every day. It affects our behaviors and our decisions, as well as our long-term planning and our short-term impulses. It influences, and is influenced by everything from our sleep cycle to our eating habits.

It matters to everyone, yet there are still many who would rather not think about mental health. There are still many who, when they do consider mental health, treat it as binary: “crazy” or “sane.” And there are far too many whose attitudes make it harder for themselves and others to seek the treatment that they need.

Stigma kills

The stigma surrounding mental health and mental healthcare are dangerous in the extreme. They can exacerbate the already difficult journeys of the mentall ill, harming mental health outcomes. They can also harm mental health outcomes by suppressing the desire for and access to mental health treatment.

When those who need mental healthcare avoid that care, they put themselves at grave risk. Just as skimping on care for your physical health will increase your chances of suffering from illness and increase the damage such illness could cost, so will skipping on care for your mental health.

Untreated mental health issues can grow worse over time and destroy or even end lives. Stigma and discrimination play a huge role in limiting access to mental health care, experts say, and that in turn can make suicide more likely.

The problem is particularly large among a certain demographic groups. One of the largest groups, on the whole, is men.

The male mental health epidemic

Not all of us face exactly the same challenges in mental health. Every individual journey can be immensely difficult, and that’s something that we should always acknowledge. Macro trends are also important, though, and particularly from treatment and policy perspectives. It’s important to know, for instance, that LGBTQ individuals are more likely to suffer from depression, and examining big trends like this causes one fact to loom large.

Men are far more likely to die by suicide suicide than are women: In the United States, men are dying by suicide at three and a half times the rate of women. That is likely related to a similarly upsetting statistics. Men are far less likely than women to receive the mental health treatment that they need.

That’s related to stigma, explain the experts. Though we have come a long way as a society, it remains clear that gender roles and concepts of masculinity are still major parts of our culture. These concepts can be harmful to our society and its members in all sorts of ways. The roles and expectations reserved for men in our society hurt women, but it’s crucial to understand that they can also hurt men and, in fact, are quite literally killing men at an alarming rate.

When men believe that they have to be self-sufficient, that their self-worth should be tied to their success, that mental health issues are a sign of weakness, or that seeking mental health care is something that only women can or should do, we end up in a society that effectively denies mental health care to men.

It doesn’t have to be like this. We can fight for change by living that change, say experts who offer group therapy in San Francisco. Men should be as proactive as possible about their mental health. We should talk to our primary care providers about mental health, seek out therapists and psychiatrists, and keep careful tabs on our moods and thoughts. We are at risk, and we need to protect ourselves.

In time, we can hope that policy choices and a changing culture will eliminate the stigma surrounding mental health issues and their treatment. Hopefully, we’ll someday think of mental illnesses in the same way that we think of physical ones. That way, we can see a mentally healthy male population. In the meantime, though, we must fight against stigma for our mental health and for all who deserve great mental healthcare.