About 20 percent of adults have at least one mental health condition. People can embrace discussions about coping with mental adversity at home or out with family or friends. Be mindful and sensitive that the mental health issues people struggle with don’t define their state of being or who they are.
One of my greatest challenges as a mental health professional, along with my colleagues and our global society, is destigmatizing mental health issues. Mental Health America’s 2023 State of Mental in America survey reported that 21% of adults are experiencing at least one mental illness. That’s roughly 50 million people. They also cited that 55% of adults with a mental illness have received no treatment. One out of every five adults is dealing with at least one mental health issue. Depression and anxiety are the highest among the disorders. Anxiety affects 284 million people and depression affects 264 million people worldwide.
Suicide rates are rising as well. I regularly hear from my clients who work in schools that the frequency of their 211 calls (school-based suicide hotline) is increasing precipitously. Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among people age 15 to 24 in the U.S. Nearly 20% of high school students report serious thoughts of suicide and 9% have attempted to take their lives, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. In addition, over 12.1 million adults (4.8%) have reported serious thoughts of suicide.
It is all our responsibility to encourage a more open dialogue with our family, friends, and children to reduce stigmatization of those suffering from mental health issues to increase awareness and access to care.
Here are several crucial areas that we all can prioritize to improve our sensitivity towards mental health issues:
1. Make It a Dinner Table Topic
Commit to integrating dialogue about mental health into your dinner table conversations. Be it at home or out with family or friends, create a discourse about how to cope with mental adversity. As often as possible, be transparent about personal struggles instead of treating mental health challenges like they are shameful and not worthy of being discussed. Converse about how people have proactively used proven methods to address their problems. This helps to normalize seeking help.
2. Encourage Research
Since most of us have our phones with us all the time, researching is as easy as picking it up. So, when you’re among family, friends or your children and a confusing issue arises regarding mental health, research it to get the facts straight. Embrace everyone’s curiosity. Engaging in a collective search for knowledge will increase the length, depth, and comfort level everyone feels addressing the issue or topic.
3. Don’t Stigmatize a Person With a Mental Health Disorder
It’s essential to understand that the mental health issues people struggle with don’t define their state of being or who they are. Be sensitive and mindful of word choices. Avoid identifying individuals with a mental health issue, like “She’s bipolar” or “He’s depressed.” Casually defining them with medical terminology is labeling. Mental health struggles are not visible to the naked eye. You won’t know if someone struggling with an issue is in your company, and it’s equally stigmatizing for them to hear mental health verbiage casually tossed around in conversations.
4. Engage And Ask Questions
Make a concerted effort not to blow through someone’s desire to discuss their mental health disorder as if talking about it is taboo. Engage, ask questions, and reinforce that you’re able to provide a safe space for them to talk about their experiences. Just like in any relationship, probing questions can be effective. However, tread softly and respect that boundaries may exist between your curiosity and delving into uncomfortable territory.
Whenever my clients have regularly integrated effective communication skills about mental health into their daily conversations, that sensitivity has impacted those around them. Using our collective voices, we have the power to destigmatize mental health issues, empower more people to seek care, and reduce the mental health epidemic in our country and around the world.
Marissa Walsh, Pharm D. BCPS-AQ ID, February 3, 2023, Mental Health Issues, SingleCare.
CDC, Centers for Disease Control, June 28, 2021
Davice Warren, 2023, The State of Mental Health in America: Adult Prevalence and Access to Care, Next Step Solutions