“He’s so crazy!”
“That baseball game was so close it gave me a panic attack!”
“You think you’re depressed? You’re just too full of nerves. Pull yourself together!”
At Pillars Community Health, we recognize that mental health is just as important as physical health. But too often in our society, discussions of mental health and even our everyday conversations are often riddled with stigmas.
“Mental illness isn’t just the extremes that you see on TV: hallucinations, schizophrenia,” says Anna Padron Sikora, MSW, who has worked at Pillars Community Health for 20 years, mostly in Mental Health, and is now the vice president of community engagement. “Mental health issues (such as anxiety, substance use disorders, and depression) are a reality for one in five Americans and 16 percent of children and teens ages 6-17.”
Media depictions of severe mental illness; songs that call people “psycho;” even the seemingly small, everyday labels or criticisms we make about people (“she must be crazy”) all contribute to the myths and stigma surrounding mental health and mental illness. It is this stigma, which often appears as shaming or judgment, that keeps too many people from seeking help—for fear of being labeled themselves. Thankfully, there are some easy ways we can all turn the conversation around.
The Realities of Mental Illness in Our Community
“In Illinois, almost a quarter of people with serious psychological distress have an unmet need of mental health treatment,” according to SAMHDA’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health. And when they don’t seek help, those issues can escalate, often leading to costly emergency room visits or encounters with law enforcement that could have been avoided through preventive treatment. Today one out of every eight ER visits by a U.S. adult involves mental illness or substance use disorders, according to the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.
Just like physical illness, mental illness affects people in every community, regardless of age, race, gender, economic status, sexual orientation, or any other factor. We are all on a mental health journey, whether our mental health status is good or bad, whether we have a diagnosable mental illness or are just managing daily stress. Mental health and physical health often go hand-in-hand: physical symptoms like chronic pain can impact mental well-being, and mental health concerns like anxiety or depression can cause headaches, rapid breathing, or irregular sleeping patterns.
“Mental illness is sometimes thought of as this invisible enemy,” says Padron Sikora. “People just assume that because you can’t see it, it’s not there.”
Such myths can also create a barrier to seeking help.
3 Ways to “Erase Crazy” in Your Community
In recent years, discussions about mental health have begun to shift to a more educational and empathetic tone. Celebrities (including Demi Lovato, Katy Perry, Michael Phelps, Kanye West, Brad Pitt, and Selena Gomez) have taken to social media to share their personal struggles with issues related to mental health and substance use and have encouraged people to seek help. At the local level, and indeed in our own homes and community groups, we each have a responsibility to reduce stigma.
“We need to remember to show empathy,” says Padron Sikora. “Mental illness is just a part of someone’s life, it’s not their whole life. We can’t talk openly about mental health unless we eliminate stigma and bias in the community.”
There are many ways to change the discussion about mental health for the better:
- Take a Free Mental Health First Aid Course. There are many resources available for those who want to learn how to help themselves or someone they love. Consider taking a local Mental Health First Aid course. Mental Health First Aid teaches participants how to assist someone experiencing a mental health crisis.
- Start a Conversation. Sometimes it can seem overwhelming or scary to reach out to friends and family for help. Just as you would pay attention to your own feelings, take time to pay attention to your loved ones.
- Avoid Stigmatizing Language. Words are powerful. Try to catch yourself when you say words like “crazy” in reference to a person or situation and seek another descriptor.
Pillars Community Health offers an original “Erase Crazy” presentation to interested community groups. Click here to learn more about our educational offerings.
If you or a loved one could benefit from Mental Health or Substance Use Disorder Services, call 708-PILLARS (708-745-5277) or click here to learn more.