Announcement!

Hi everyone! Hope that you are well! I have some great news…I will be giving a TEDx talk in New Jersey on April 7, 2018! My talk is called “Relapse is Part of Recovery.” I’m interviewing 100 people to really flesh out my talk, and here is a summary:

“Relapse is part of recovery” is a term frequently used in the addiction world to encourage people to continue if they lose their sobriety. But relapses (which I define as “rock bottoms”) happen outside of addiction and mental illness: there are relapses in careers, relationships, societies, identities, etc.

When people relapse, they are often faced with shame, disappointment, and see it as a failure. But what I’m finding is that frequently, as a result of a relapse, we gain some sort of insight that changes our lives for the better.

My talk argues that we need to rethink our views of relapse and how we handle relapses. We need to recognize that they are frequently an opportunity for growth. When someone relapses, we need to be supportive, encouraging, and hopeful. And that, my friends, will lead to “A Better Future” (the theme of the TEDx I am part of).

I am documenting my whole journey of building this TEDx talk on instagram: @hufsathegreat. I can’t tell you how many people are coming together to help me with this talk: allowing me to interview them, sending me pictures…I even have local actors who are going to help me film a scene for my talk. Wow!

Stay tuned! I’ll be posting about some of the stories I have been hearing!

How To Fight the Stigma of Mental Health: Part I

How can we fight against the stigma of mental illness – a surmounting task? I hope to do a multi-part segment on ways that one can combat the stigma of mental health conditions. The first point I will bring up is the power of analogies to physical illness.

I was a private math and science tutor for two years. Hands down, the best way to teach a student something they didn’t know was to put it in terms of what they already understood.

The vast majority of the world does not understand mental illness – including people who have mental illness themselves. But if you put it in terms of what people already know – physical illness – you will make greater strides in conveying the message that mental disorders are real disorders that affect the brain the same way other illnesses affect the heart, or lungs, or kidneys, etc.

I use this technique when I speak to various audiences, including the people I serve in the community mental health system. I explain that mental illness is a lifelong illness, just like physical illnesses. Mental health requires healing and self-monitoring, which can consist of medication and therapy. Is taking pills for diabetes something to be ashamed of? Is going to the hospital after having a heart attack different than going to the hospital for a mental breakdown? Is knowing the symptoms of your mental illness as necessary as knowing the symptoms of a physical health condition, even a stroke or heart attack?

When I put mental health in terms of physical health terminology and principles, people start to nod their heads, with an occasional “ahh” or “mm-hmm.”

To make strides towards eliminating stigma – to work hard to combat the stigma of mental health – let’s work together with these suggestions.

What is Stigma?

Before I move forward with this blog, it would be worthwhile to define what exactly stigma is.

Stigma literally means a mark of shame or discredit. In a wider sense, it means prejudice and discrimination towards a certain action or characteristic. There is a stigma attached towards obtaining welfare benefits, and there is the stigma I will be focusing on in this blog: the stigma towards mental illness.

Stigma in the mental health world can be manifested as:

Shame or humiliation about carrying mental illness, or knowing someone with one
Disbelief in or denial of mental illness;
False stereotypes, harsh judgment, even fear of mentally ill individuals;
Discouragement towards seeking professional help;
Discrimination in the employment process;
Mislabeling as crazy, psycho, and unfit to be in society.

The list goes on. Congressman Patrick J. Kennedy explains that stigma is anything that prevents someone from getting care – “attitudinal barriers” towards seeking help [1]. Moreover, there is not only stigma in society towards mentally ill people, but also self-stigma. People with mental illness oftentimes look down upon themselves because of their illness. For instance, I stigmatized myself when I called myself a psycho and weak for not successfully living with my illness.

I am no social psychologist, so if you would like a more technical explanation of stigma, I recommend this article: http://webcast.und.edu/health-wellness/healthy-und/mental-health-stigma-fawn.pdf.

I believe that stigma towards mental illness is not talked about as frequently as it should be (admittedly, times are a-changin’, due to unfortunate tragedies such as in Newton, CT, but fortunate things like Silver Linings Playbook). It’s so important because as stigma is reduced, more people will be willing to get help for themselves or their loved ones. We won’t have to live in shame or fear. More of us can lead healthy, productive lives.

Beyond just the emotional argument, there are very, very practical reasons why stigma needs to be eliminated and mental illness must be treated in the U.S.:

It’s common. One in four adults in the U.S. are affected by mental illness in a given year, yet only 60% get the help they need [2].
It’s crippling. Four of the ten leading causes of disability are mental disorders [3].
It’s life-threatening. There are over 38,000 suicides every year, and 90% of the people who commit suicide have a diagnosable mental illness. And yes, I will add a nod to the couple of percentage points of increased violent behavior in untreated mentally ill people. 5-7% people with severe problems will harm others in a given year, compared to 2-3% general population [4, 5].
It’s an economic burden. Serious mental illness costs $193.2 billion in lost earnings per year due to loss of productivity [6].
It’s costly indirectly as well as directly. Mentally ill people suffer a higher rate of unemployment, alienation, and homelessness. There are also costs from social care, education, housing, criminal justice and social security systems [7].
It’s the right thing to do! We can’t let so many people suffer unnecessarily. (I refuse to believe this is an emotional argument.)

So that is what this blog is dedicated to: the elimination of stigma. I hope you’ll join me.

Best,

Hufsa

ENDNOTES
[1] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bradley-cooper/silver-linings-playbook-mental-health_b_2595390.html
[2] http://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2013/02/04/kathleen-sebelius-on-mental-health-care/1890859/
[3] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2248201/
[4] http://depts.washington.edu/mhreport/facts_suicide.php
[5] http://articles.baltimoresun.com/2013-01-07/health/bs-md-mental-health-services-20130107_1_mental-health-severe-mental-disorders-mentally-ill-people
[6] (http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1738804,00.html)
[7] http://bjp.rcpsych.org/content/183/6/477.full