According to a 2017 article in Science Daily "less than half of Americans can recognize anxiety. Most people don't know what to do about depression even when they spot it." That was based on a national survey on issues surrounding mental-health literacy out of Michigan State University¹. Could improving our mental health literacy decrease stigma and increase help-seeking behaviors? It seems to me the answer to that question is an enthusiastic yes!
The British Journal of Psychiatry indicates the less people know about mental health conditions, the more likely they are to be afraid of them or misunderstand those living with mental illnesses, causing stigma. Yet stigma and ignorance form a circle as stigma both stems from and creates ignorance. It is further explained in the Journal, "when something's seen as socially taboo, people are less inclined to learn more about it; and when we don't learn about mental illness, we're less able to identify a mental health concern emerging among a friend, family member or ourselves, or understand what treatment options are available." ²
So, what is mental health literacy and how can we increase it? Mental Health Literacy is defined by mentalhealth.org as, "understanding how to obtain and maintain positive mental health; understanding mental health problems and their treatments; decreasing stigma related to mental health problems; and, enhancing help-seeking efficacy" ³. On the question of how to increase our mental health literacy, I feel education is key. Unless we educate ourselves and others, there will never be understanding of mental health conditions and, as a result, stigma will persist. There is good news, however, as the best part of education is that it does not end with one person. The more education each individual has, the more they spread facts, instead of assumptions or misunderstandings, to others; thereby increasing the mental health literacy of whole communities.
To clarify, when I speak of education, I am not referring to college courses and degrees. Education can be simple, and it can be completely free of cost. For example, find a book at the library that speaks to you and expand your knowledge base; maybe a memoir of someone living with a mental health condition. My favorite is, An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness, written by Kay Redfield Jamison. It tells of her journey from Mental Illness to Recovery. She is not only someone living with a mental health condition but also a psychiatrist, so the book is filled with firsthand experience, as well as, scientific fact.
Another book I found to be life-changing, geared toward family members/loved ones of those living with mental health conditions, is I'm Not Sick, I Don't Need Help by Xavier Amador, PhD. It is a book that introduces LEAP (Listen, Empathize, Agree, Partner), a communication method that helps family members support their loved ones while reducing the conflicts that come from encouraging someone to seek help.
If you need a quick read and are just looking for straight facts, NAMI has a free e-book you can download from Amazon, called NAMI Family and Friends. It includes information about diagnoses, treatment, recovery, communication strategies, crisis preparation and, of course, NAMI resources.
While we are on the subject of NAMI, as this newsletter shows we provide FREE in-person educational experiences that increase mental literacy on an ongoing basis. Earlier in the newsletter you saw information about our upcoming speaker series, both at the Community Wellness Center in LaGrange and at the Oak Park Library. Scroll back up and take another look. Each of those classes is an opportunity to educate yourself on a specific topic related to mental well being. In addition, if you are looking for an in-depth class about mental health in general, seek out our 8-hour Mental Health First Aid training. Or, to expand your knowledge of mental health in youth and adolescents, Youth Mental Health First Aid is the gold-standard training to take.
There are so many opportunities to learn right here in our community that it is disheartening to me when I see the national statistics that came out of Michigan State University. I challenge each of you, whether you have a personal connection to mental illness or not, to begin the New Year by increasing your mental health literacy and the literacy of others in your community. If you think you already know it all, remember the words of Eleanor Roosevelt, "Nothing we learn in this world is ever wasted." There is always new information available and always more to learn. Take advantage of the free opportunities offered, whether by NAMI Metro Suburban or other organizations and, above all, NEVER stop learning.
(1) British Journal of Psychiatry. https://www.bustle.com/p/this-study-shows-why-americans-ignorance-about-mental-health-is-hurting-us-55314
(2) Michigan State University. "National mental-health survey finds widespread ignorance, stigma." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 27 April 2017. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/04/170427112223.htm
Written by Nikki Rashes, CRSS