By Patricia Montague, CAE, Chief Executive Officer 2014-02-27 17:57:34
Shake Off the Stigma and Speak Up Sometimes it seems like mental illness only gets discussed by the news media in connection with an act of horrific violence. In the aftermath, however, there’s relatively little coverage—at least little that we tend to tune in to—about why the system failed in getting the person help and what it is about mental illness that makes neighbors and colleagues so reluctant to get involved. Most of us engage in a longstanding silence when it comes to talking about mental, mood and developmental disorders—our own challenges or those of someone we love. As a society, we have come a long way, but we still have a long way to go to overcome the entrenched stigma around this issue. Over the years, dating back to my college days as a residents’ advisor, I have participated in signifi- cant training in recognizing the signs when someone is struggling—and for how to go about getting him her help. When an individual is in the middle of dealing with depression or anxiety or a less-common condition, it is often immensely difficult for them to see the effects of their situation and ask for help. I know this from personal experience, because even with my training, when my marriage ended suddenly 11 years ago, I thought I didn’t need help. It took prodding from a good friend for me to seek professional assistance—and it took time. I needed to visit more than one counselor to find the right fit for my comfort and needs. But I can look back and affirm that getting counseling for me and my sons was the best thing I ever did, not only for how it helped me through a rough period then, but for how that personal work continues to help me now. The numbers are staggering—at any given time, one in four adults is struggling with a mental, mood or developmental disorder. That means it’s likely that at home or work, you know someone who needs your compassion and maybe your help. And if you aren’t already aware of the signs, you will be after reading through this month’s magazine. I urge you to step out of your comfort zone to be supportive any way you can. Don’t let fear, embarrassment or your personal “busy-ness” keep you silent. Just expressing your awareness and concern can make a tremendous difference, especially if work policies restrict you from getting more directly involved. You can acknowledge that you can see how the person’s struggles impede them from being best they can be for their family, friends, employer and, most important, themselves. Even the smallest gesture can be just the lifeline someone needs.
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