As a psychiatrist for more than 20 years at Kaiser Permanente, it has become clear to me that when you help one person with a mental health condition, you can have a positive impact on many more people—their children, loved ones, friends and colleagues.
Most mental health conditions have evidence-based treatments that work. But unlike people with diabetes or heart disease, continuing stigma is keeping some with these conditions from getting the medical care they need. In fact, more than half of adults struggling with mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, addiction and posttraumatic stress, do not receive treatment, according to a report from Mental Health America.
That’s why Kaiser Permanente launched a public health awareness campaign called Find Your Words, providing resources on how to identify mental health issues, where people can go for help, and how to start a conversation – whether you’re living with a mental health condition and want to ask for support or you want to help someone but don’t know what to say.
Our message is simple – there is hope. You don’t have to suffer alone. But many people still do.
Depression is now the leading cause of disability in the world, according to the World Health Organization. There are two important reasons for this. It is common and it affects people of all ages, robbing many people of several productive years of their lives. I went into child psychiatry because I was inspired by the potential to change someone’s life early on, sparing them, and those who care about them, years of suffering.
To better understand the issues of stigma and silence around mental health conditions, Kaiser Permanente conducted a national consumer poll in August, which showed we still need to fight misperceptions and stigma around mental health.
One key finding was that more than half of people polled suspect a friend or relative is dealing with a mental health issue, but isn’t disclosing it. People who keep their depression hidden are far less likely to seek help. A closer look uncovers myths that may prevent people from speaking up and getting help.
For example, 55 percent of people think a personal weakness or failing is at least partially responsible for many mental health issues, especially addiction, eating disorders, and, to a lesser degree, depression and anxiety. But that’s not true.
In fact, there are many causes – childhood or personal trauma, chemical imbalance, genetics – for mental health conditions. As a society, and to help support our friends and family, we first have to stop blaming someone who is suffering because it can lead to shame and silence. Our poll identified fear of stigma, and embarrassment and shame, as the top reasons people do not reach out for help.
Depression and other mental health issues touch every segment of society. In the past year, celebrities such as the British royals have shared their personal struggles, and the suicides of Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell and Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington spurred some of music’s biggest names to talk openly about depression. These conversations hopefully signal that we all can be open. This is not about “those people over there” – it is about all of us.
We want people to know they are not alone and that there is hope. While depression can seem scary, the great majority of people dealing with depression can fully recover and lead normal lives. I am especially encouraged by two poll findings – most people see attitudes toward mental health issues changing for the better in our society and many people want to help a loved one in need, even if they don’t always know how.
Our goal at Kaiser Permanente is to help people find the words they need to speak up – the first step in getting better. If you think someone might be struggling with a mental health issue, don’t hesitate to reach out to them. Offer to listen or attend a counseling session with them. Be the one to break the silence. Because when you help one person with a mental health issue, you help countless others who love and care for them.
Go to www.findyourwords.org to share words of encouragement, get resources to help start a conversation and take action.
Dr. Don Mordecai is the Kaiser Permanente National Leader for Mental Health and Wellness.