In our society there is a huge negative stereotype about mental illness and treatment for mental illness. Given we live in the United States in the 21st century, this is quite surprising. Especially since statistics show the 1 in 5 people could benefit from psychotherapy (CDC, 2014).
Most people when they think about psychotherapy or mental illness, think of someone sleeping in the street or some one with severe schizophrenia. Because of this stereotype many people feel ashamed or embarrassed if they are told they need therapy. Family members also feel ashamed and embarrassed and never mention it to other people if someone in their family needs psychotherapy. People are afraid that other people will think they are “crazy” too, if someone in their family is going to therapy. However, most people who need treatment for a mental illness need treatment for depression or anxiety not schizophrenia.
Research studies show that most depression is due to a chemical imbalance in brain. Diabetes is due to the pancreas not being able to coordinate glucose levels in the body. We don’t make a person with diabetes feel embarrassed or ashamed so why do we make someone dealing with depression feel embarrassed or ashamed?
What is the cost of this stereotype? People who have depression are at risk for suicide. The Center for Disease Control statistics show that suicide is the third leading cause of death for people aged10 to 24. Yes ten year old children are suffering from depression and are killing themselves. One of the most common methods is a gun. People assume this is a guarantee. Wrong, a gun is not a guarantee. Quite often the gun jumps and the person lives. However, they have to undergo multiple surgeries to try to rebuild their face. However, no matter how good the surgeon, the person is left with multiple permanent scars. Psychotherapy and medication might have prevented the suicide attempt.
However, because of our negative stereotype, depression and suicide have never been taken seriously. The Golden Gate Bridge is the most common place in the world for people to jump off when they are trying to commit suicide. It wasn’t until just recently that the Bridge District voted on what type of anti-suicide barrier they are going to build. However, even though they have voted for an anti-suicide net, last week they were still debating the details. The Golden Gate Bridge is 78 years old. It has taken 78 years to do something about a life or death issue and they are still debating over minor details. BART has been around for decades and people have been jumping in front of trains for years. This year BART is starting an anti-suicide campaign. How many lives were lost needlessly to suicide, prior to this campaign and why have they waited so long to put one in place?
Often we assume it is a money issue. Only poor people commit suicide because they cannot afford treatment. The suicide of Robin Williams destroyed that myth. He had plenty of financial resources for treatment and had been in and out of treatment centers for years. In an interview with Dyane Swayer he described how overwhelming depression is, he said, “no matter what there is always that little voice in the back of my mind saying jump.” If that voice is always there but society is saying there is something wrong with you for having depression in the first place or because you have not over come it, are you going to ask for help or keep seeking help? No.
Yes society often blames the patient. Why don’t they try harder? Why didn’t they think of their family? After Robin Williams’ suicide a number of comedians and actors talked about their silent struggle with depression. Rosie O’Donnell stated it best, “when you are that deep down in that black hole with intense emotional pain, the only think you can think about is how to stop the pain. You don’t think about your family or anything else.”
I ask you to think about your opinion or thoughts about mental illness. Think about a 10 year old boy feeling that suicide is the only way out of his pain. Think about the fact that he is dealing with a medical diagnosis similar to diabetes or high blood pressure. If this is right, why is there this negative stigma about mental illness? If a child has diabetes he receives medical treatment, there are summer camps and there is no shame put on the child or the family. Think about the fact that the bill President Trump is pushing would make Depression and anxiety pre-existing conditions so insurance companies could deny people health care.
We need to make a change in how we view or react to mental illness. We live in the United States of America and we are supposed to be the super power in the world. You wouldn’t think that in the most powerful nation in the world that the third leading cause of death for our children is suicide. We must change this ridiculous stereotype we have about mental illness and start providing people and children with appropriate treatment for their mental illness. The life you save might be your’s child’s life or the life of a family member or friend.
We may want to look at England. The Duke and Duchesses of Cambridge and Prince Henry have formed a program called, Heads Together. The goal of the program is to eliminate the negative stereotype about mental health and to make sure people who need psychotherapy receive it. In fact, the Duchess of Cambridge said publicly that if either of her children ever need psychotherapy that they will receive it. We might want to follow their example.
Dr. Michael Rubino is a psychotherapist who specializes in treating children and teenagers. Dr. Rubino has over 20 years experience as a psychotherapist. He is very active in eliminating the stereotype about mental health. He is an active member in Heads Together in London, a non-profit founded by Prince Willam, Henry and Princess Kate to help people understand that people need mental health care. For more information about Dr. Rubino’s practice or his work visit his website at http://www.rubinocounseling.com or follow him on Twitter @RubinoTherapy.