We live in a world where going to a therapist often feels more shameful than going to see your dentist or internist. Many people still feel embarrassed and ashamed about needing help for their anxiety or depression, while they would not have those feelings if treating a cancerous growth or heart disease.
Although this stigma is slowly changing, our society still holds many misconceptions about what it means to have a mental illness. And these misconceptions or a lack of accurate information can interfere with people getting the help they need. Individuals who suffer from mental illness are not lazy, deranged, weak, or whining for attention. In fact, they are no more likely to have negative personality traits than people who don’t suffer from this type of disease. Mental health disorders are relatively common in the United States and according to some statistics 25% of the population will probably suffer from one or more of these disorders at any given time.
Dr. John Huber is Chairman of Mainstream Mental Health. He is a psychologist, and university professor who has been a practicing mental health professional for over twenty years. He is trying to change the misconceptions and stigma attached to having a mental illness. He is attempting to destigmatize the negative impact mental disorders have, particularly on the underprivileged uninsured youth, and veterans and their families.
Huber says both these groups have been taught to be wary of labels, especially when it comes to mental health. Being labeled mentally ill for this population can create a powerful fear of being excluded, bullied or labeled weak; all these labels can keep those in need away from the mental health services they need. His goal is to help people before this type of breakdown between available professional help and the patient occurs. We spoke in depth about Dr. Huber’s Mainstream Mental Health Center and his radio show, which is all aimed at making services more accessible and acceptable amongst the mentally ill population.
Dr. Robi: Dr. Huber, What exactly is Mainstream Mental Health?
Dr. Huber: Mainstream Mental health is a nonprofit 501 (c)3 organization that was created to 1. Destigmatize mental health issues. Provide a platform for discussing mental health in a safe way. Ultimately create and provide an alternate way to provide mental health services to our primary target populations: veterans, their families, and the underprivileged youth in America
Dr. Robi: You’ve taken on a goal to create pro-social attitudes towards mental health. Why do you think there is still such a stigma regarding mental health related issues and treatment?
Dr. Huber: Society beliefs are difficult to change. Mental illness affects all of us whether we suffer from it directly or just know someone with mental health issues. Data shows that 1 in 5 Americans has a diagnosable mental health disorder. Only about 1 in 4 of those get help and identify their diagnosis. The rest stumble through life unrecognized. Many believe that having a mental health diagnosis somehow makes you weak or inferior. The military help perpetuates this by chastising individuals that ask for help. Even after discharge, it is difficult at best to work with military personnel when they suffer from mental health issues. They have been trained to believe that they are inferior if they need this kind of help. Women veterans are even less willing to ask for mental health help as they do not want to be seen as weak and unable to serve their country. Ultimately it comes down to fear. People fear what they don’t know or understand.
Dr. Robi: Do you believe that this stigma is changing? There have been many high profile people, including celebrities, who have come out and spoken about their struggles with various mental health issues. Has this helped?
Dr. Huber: It is changing slowly; people are “coming out” so to speak with their mental health issues. As more people recognize their problems and their friends and family’s issues as actually being mental health issues, awareness in society is growing. I believe that as famous people come out with their issues become known, it does help make mental health issues more accepted and commonplace. We just lost an outspoken celebrity when Carry Fisher died this past December. I know that she made it easier for my patients to accept their illness when she came and visited the Austin State Hospital. She will be missed. Additionally, other famous people are sharing and talking about mental health and how it affects them: Meatloaf, Britney Spears, Robin Williams, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Amanda Bynes, and the list just goes on and on. The more faces we put on mental health issues and the more we talk and educate people, the less fear it produces and the more it will help. Ultimately, it does help.
Dr. Robi: How do you help the people who come to your clinic to better accept their diagnosis and treatment? How do you empower them to make the positive changes they need to make in their lives?
Dr. Huber: Education is a big part. If and when we can get through to the individuals that are resistant to treatment /intervention, we will be achieving real progress. As they learn more about how their behavior, how it affects them and the others around them, it begins to sink in, at which point real change can happen. Therapy then becomes more effective and empowerment is gained through the appropriate therapeutic intervention, usually, a cognitive behavioral modality but others can be effective as well.
Dr. Robi: How can family and friends help those who are struggling with depression, anxiety or the other more severe illnesses?
Dr. Huber: Listen, the biggest thing they can do is listen. Don’t try and give advice. They have probably given themselves more advice than anyone can imagine, but can’t follow through because of the mental illness. Once you have listened, be supportive, encourage them to work with mental health professionals, and comply with treatment recommendations; then go back to listening to validate the person’s experience.
Dr. Robi: Do you think part of the problem with receiving the right kind of care is that it is too financially costly? How can this issue be addressed culturally?
Dr. Huber: Treatment is expensive. Out-patient therapy is significantly cheaper than inpatient treatment (hospitalization) and is usually less intrusive in the patient’s life. One thing that can be culturally addressed is to begin to accept and explore the fact that outpatient treatment can be effective and at times even prevent the need for hospitalization. With a more supportive environment, it becomes more likely that a patient would seek help as opposed to waiting until hospitalization is the only recourse.
Dr. Robi: You've created a blog talk radio program called Mainstream Mental Health Radio. What kinds of topics do you discuss on your show?
Dr. Huber: We are trying to help educate people on mental health issues, so anything within the realm of mental health is game. We have guests that have struggled with life problems in general and are sharing their stories as treatment professionals, teachers, and educators, or patients. In addition, we have shows planned to discuss specific mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, depression, bi-polar disorder and other disorders. We will continue to bring on guests that have lived with these disorders and have found success in their lives with appropriate intervention. They come on the show and tell their stories, share their experiences, and sometimes talk about the books they have written to share and help others.
Dr. Robi: What type of feedback have you gotten about your show?
Dr. Huber: The response has been overwhelmingly positive. It is very gratifying to get such positive feedback; it acts as a catalyst to help us move forward and bring more information to the audience.
Dr. Robi: Where can people learn more about your show?
Dr. Huber: You can listen to our show at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/mainstreammentalhealth. You can also follow us at www.mainstreammentalhealth.org where you can find links to all of our social media so that you can stay on top of current topics and issues at any time.
Dr. Robi: If you had to give one last piece of advice to people who want to make a difference in this area, what would you tell them?
Dr. Huber: Be persistent, be honest, be humble and don’t be afraid. More people than you know are suffering. The more we talk about mental health issues, the more people come forward. This is a universal problem, and we need a voice. Remember life is what happens while you are making plans, so buckle up!