We all have a mission.
Mine is this: I want to get the word out that there is hope. Hope for those who only see darkness and feel pain; that there is a solution and a path to recovery from that darkness and the pain.
There are still too many people that do not know that help is here. Let’s increase the focus on mental health so that people no longer feel embarrassed to admit that they have a mental illness or that they need help.
Anti-stigma campaigns and trainings like Mental Health First Aid are wonderful resources, and we need to work to reach even more people, and prevent people from ever getting to the point of desperation and isolation that leads to suicide.
I want people to understand that:
- It is okay to have a mental illness and to need help
- The stresses in life can be handled without resorting to drugs and alcohol
- There are people that care
- Every human being deserves a chance to live a life with less suffering and more dignity.
As a program of Sheppard Pratt Health System, the Harford County Mobile Crisis Team responds to mental health crises, and also provides community education and outreach to the citizens of the county. It is amazing to me how many people will line up at a community event to get their blood pressure checked, hear about healthy eating and exercise, or even stop to see a demonstration of what smoking does to lungs; but when they see my smiling face encouraging them to come and talk with me about preventing suicide or decreasing stress, most smile and say, “thanks, but no thanks,” and walk quickly past my table. I’ve found that many people feel uncomfortable talking about mental health and mental illness in public! I see the embarrassment on their faces, and I’m left wondering, “how can I let people know that there is hope when they are too embarrassed to talk with me?” Let’s encourage one another to end the stigma that is preventing those who are in need from seeking help.
Mental illness is still an uncomfortable topic for many people to think about, let alone talk about. I want to just get folks to talk before things get bad, to help them understand that it is a good thing to ask for help when the stresses of life become overwhelming; that there is no shame in experiencing symptoms of depression, stress, seeing or hearing things, and generally not feeling their usual self.
How do we communicate to people that the reason they may be drawn to the highs and lows of using substances may have something to do with the state of their mental health, not just getting in with the “wrong crowd?” The stigma that still exists around mental illness and substance use is so tough to get past.
Recent changes have brought treatment for mental health and substance use issues together under the umbrella of “Behavioral Health.” Many of us care providers always felt that it would be better to deal with all aspects as a whole, and not try to treat isolated pieces of a person. This shift in thinking will work to streamline care and help more people. However, this will not automatically fix the stigma, or the perceived shame and embarrassment that is still in the way of people getting the help they need.
I will continue to do my part in getting the word out in as many ways as I can, but what can you do to help this cause? Consider the different ways you can reach out to let people know that mental health is just as important as physical health:
- Talking with family, friends, and acquaintances over coffee
- Sharing articles with your friends and followers on social media
- Leading a discussion or workshop at school, church, or work.
Help spread the word that healing is possible and that suicide does not have to be the answer. Speak up where you can, even if you talk to just one person. They may talk to two or more. As enough of us get the conversation going, it will spread and grow. This is the best way to make change happen, and to help us prevent suicide and overcome stigma once and for all!
Sue Lichtfuss is a Licensed Graduate Professional Counselor (LGPC), and program coordinator for Sheppard Pratt’s Harford County Mobile Crisis Team.