One in five Americans struggles with mental illness. It might be you. It might be someone you know.
But according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, in 2008, only 58.7 percent of people with a serious mental illness received treatment.
However, up to 70 percent of people diagnosed specifically with major depression received some form of treatment. That’s still only two-thirds of the people who have the illness, but why do so many more people with depression seek help than those with other mental illnesses?
For some, it is access to care. For some it is fear of side effects from treatment. But for many, the fear of stigma – of being seen as different or worse than others because of having an illness – prevents them from seeking proper care and treatment that can improve their lives and the lives of those around them.
Depression has become more mainstream in our media, advertising, and doctor’s offices. Chances are, you know several people who have struggled with the illness at some point in life.
Physicians regularly screen for depression. Our society hears about it more; it has become more commonplace and is therefore less frightening.
Depression is still an aspect of life most people don’t want to advertise about themselves, and there is some stigma remaining. There are very real fears that a person with depression might have about their treatment on the job or in their relationships if others know about their illness.
But people are much more aware that if they have certain symptoms, there is a name for that illness, and there is treatment for it. So perhaps more people seek help because they know more and are less afraid of depression than other illnesses.
Having thoughts like “No one else has the problems I am having” makes a person less likely to seek help and can make the illness harder to treat. But hearing from others that it is good to take care of one’s health, mental or otherwise, is an important step in helping any struggling person to feel better.
NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (www.nami.org), is one resource to learn more about fighting the stigma around effective mental health treatment. Your local therapist is another good resource. Whatever your problem, it is likely that others have had similar issues.
The more we discuss them openly, the more benefit to the individuals affected as well as society as a whole.
Alison Jedrick, LCSW, LISW-CP, is an associate with Psychological & Counseling Associates of the Lowcountry, LLC in Bluffton.