If you break your arm, you have it assessed with an X-ray for starters to determine how serious a break you have, where it is exactly and what is needed for healing. Maybe an MRI is required to assess tendon or soft tissue/collateral damage. Perhaps it will need a boot cast, or crutches are ordered. Maybe you need to have the bone set, or even pins/plate put in through surgery. There could be multiple hospitalizations and perhaps an extended period of physio-therapy on an outpatient basis until your bone/joint/tendons/tissue are fully functioning and you’re well and confident to use it again. Of course there are different types of breaks and different healing regimens. Mental illness doesn’t have the same visibility as wearing a cast. Diagnostically, you might be able to point to the effects via genetic research, evaluating body chemistry- or brain scans. With ADHD or depression, there might be hyperactive behaviors or a withdrawn, sad state.
Maybe when the weather acts up, your bone/joint becomes a little stiff, or you have to be careful not to overdo it if you’re prone to arthritis. Does the fact of the broken bone, the label of having a broken bone, or visiting an orthopedic surgeon mean you’re less capable or somehow to be looked at as less of a human? Are you subject to dangerous outbursts or unsafe to be around, danger to self? [Usually not, though your mobility is temporarily restricted for a few months. Some behavioral diagnoses in teens DO require a short stay in acute care for crisis stabilization.] But this is precisely what mental health advocates find objectionable to the stigma associated with a diagnosis of mental or behavioral illness: painting the entire landscape with the same broad brush: ‘Broken.” [A broken vase might get thrown away.] It’s inaccurate for most/many conditions when we might rather say, ‘temporarily in repair.’ Intervention and successful treatment are key to feeling better and restoring wholeness and productivity. And later, the person with the healed bone might be a little more careful when black ice is forecast, or take off their skis rather than squeeze in just one more downhill run over hard slick moguls at dusk.
Societal prejudice runs deep. Counseling services name conditions and services offered; what they treat: trafficked girls, sexual abuse, rape, PTSD, depression, bi-polar disorder, schizoid-affective disorder, alcoholism, drug addiction, LGBT, domestic abuse, anxiety disorders, mood disorders, anger issues, ADHD, suicidal ideation and so forth. Associations made over a life-time are hard to change. Human minds are made for making inferences. As radio show host Paul Harvey used to say, ‘And now, for the rest of the story . . . ‘. He’d lead the listener to a faulty conclusion and then, ‘poof!’ There was a completely different outcome to his story. The listener was humbled and learned a valuable lesson. Education helps us take a more nuanced approach, and so it is with mental and behavioral health. A children’s hospital is giving patients green band-aids to place on their foreheads to draw attention to the stigma surrounding mental health. (article below)
How should the media report a story? You’d get a different answer from a defense attorney or a prosecuting attorney, the EMT or the wife, the mother or the BFF, the forensic psychologist or the priest or rabbi, or the patient and family. Reporting multiple points of view or first person stories is a tenet of responsible journalism, [just the facts]-but does not guarantee happy endings or avoid uncomfortable topics. When articles and ads first appeared for sensitive products or subjects, such as for incontinence, many found them objectionable, yet the population of sufferers is huge, and benefits greatly from knowing help is available. Making the connection is an ‘aha!’ moment. Should orthopedic practices ban photos of orthopedic devices? Should they refrain from mentioning the services they provide to a population who might need orthopedic care? One is likely to say, ‘no,’ -for that. In understanding mental and behavioral illness, changed perception is a process. As we learn more about the human brain, genetic make-up, developmental issues, bio-chemistry, trauma, and environment, the focus tends to change to one of enhanced understanding of who we are, and what we’ve been through –tempered with greater empathy and compassion. The trauma-informed care focus is just one dimension of that. But stigma fades slowly.
“In our society, the stigma about mental illness is so persuasive that we blame people who die from the illness. The mentally ill don’t “commit suicide,” they die by suicide. More specifically they die from mental illness. When suicide occurs, the person isn’t “crying for help”, “being manipulative”, or “looking for attention” – they are just dead. And saying they “committed suicide” makes it sound like they had a choice. And they didn’t,” said Gabe Howard, motivational speaker, writer and advocate for the mentally ill. This is echoed by many other leading authorities in the field, heard at every one of the Ohio Suicide Prevention Foundation and AFSP conferences.
One of the biggest issues for many with mental and behavioral health disorders is access to affordable psychiatric care and healthcare coverage. The NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) flyer reports that “2/3 go without treatment, mostly because of inability to access care, and stigma’, and, ‘up to 90% of people being treated recover.’ At Pomegranate, ‘It breaks our heart when desperate parents call and their insurance does not cover behavioral healthcare. These are teens who require secure inpatient care for diagnostic evaluation and stabilization. We work closely with insurance companies, Children Service, courts, and providers to do the best we can,’ said Valerie, admissions/UR manager. “It’s a big help we now take Medicaid.’
Team Pomegranate Health Systems continues to support connecting people with care and eliminating stigma through advocacy and education. Join us June 14th for NAMI Walk 2014! Through small contributions by staff, friends and family, our little team hopes to raise over $1000 again this year. Go team! Help blast the stigma.
To give (please contribute): http://namiwalks.nami.org/pomegranate
[photo credit: Wikimedia Commons images. Author: sister72 uploaded to flickr.com/photos by sis 25/5/2007 released to creative commons 2.0]
Articles & You Tube videos on stigma: