Changing the conversation
Reducing the stigma of mental illness begins with ‘education, dialogue and increased awareness’
By Justin Chapman 01/02/2013
Mental illnesses have historically been viewed, studied and treated as behavior influenced by one’s environment. Only recently has society begun to understand that many such illnesses are biological in nature and not simply the result of an individual’s choice to behave in a socially unacceptable way.
However, people with mental illnesses continue to be stigmatized by society. It is a complicated subject, and despite the fact that nearly one in five people experience some sort of mental illness in their lives, it remains a subject most people know little about.
According to clinical psychologist Dr. Ronda Hampton of Diamond Bar, education, dialogue and increased awareness about signs and symptoms are essential to reducing the stigma commonly associated with mental illness. “In recent years, there has been a shift in our understanding of the etiology of mental illness, and there is a recognition that many disorders have a biochemical basis,” said Hampton. “With this understanding, there has been an improvement in medications to treat psychiatric disorders and improved psychological interventions to assist individuals and their families in dealing with psychiatric disorders. When we begin to view mental health as a part of our overall health, the stigma associated with mental illness will be reduced and individuals will not be ashamed to seek evaluations for mental health conditions.”
Separating mental health and physical health is also detrimental because, historically, mental illnesses were not seen as health issues that required treatment. This has led a large number of people to self-medicate.
Aurora Las Encinas Hospital in Pasadena has been dealing with both mental illness and drug dependency for the past century. With 118 licensed acute care beds, plus 38 residential treatment beds, Aurora Las Encinas offers a wide range of behavioral health care treatment options to patients with psychiatric problems, chemical dependencies, or co-occurring disorders. Psychiatric services include inpatient, partial hospitalization and intensive outpatient programs. Chemical dependency treatment is available for adults, and includes inpatient detox, rehab, residential treatment and intensive outpatient programs, according to the facility’s Web site.
Aurora Las Encinas Hospital is at 2900 E. Del Mar Blvd., Pasadena. For more information, call (626) 795-09901, or visit lasencinashospital.com.
“As a psychologist, I will always ask if there is substance abuse,” said Hampton. “Sometimes that’s masking a larger health problem. Drugs and alcohol dependency isn’t always about addiction. People are ashamed of mental illness because society is not accepting of it.”
It’s important to realize that within the major categories of anxiety, mood, schizophrenia, somatoform and personality disorder there are more than 300 different psychiatric conditions, each calling for different treatment approaches. Hampton believes it is very important to recognize the wide range of mental illnesses that exist, as opposed to lumping them all into one category.
Beyond that initial approach, there are several misconceptions about how mental illnesses affect people. One of the biggest, in Hampton’s view, is that people with mental illnesses cannot lead productive lives.
“Just like any health issue, there are various forms of treatment for those who have mental illness, which can range from improved diet and exercise to a combination of medication and psychotherapy,” she said. “Most of the time, you don’t even know who has a mental illness. Only 2 percent of those who suffer from psychiatric disorders are so mentally ill that they can’t ever take care of themselves.”
Another misconception that Hampton has noticed, especially after the horrific shooting in Newtown, Conn., is that all mentally ill people are violent and dangerous. She said that while the public tends to link violent acts with those who suffer from mental illness, they are more likely to inflict harm on themselves rather than other people.
“The bottom line is that we need to have an increased understanding of mental illness so that people will seek help,” said Hampton. “One in five Americans have or will suffer a mental illness at any given time and there are treatments available, so it is not necessary for people to suffer.”
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), the nation’s largest nonprofit mental health education, advocacy and support organization, is located right here in Pasadena, providing countless resources for people to learn about the signs and symptoms of mental illness.
Visit nami.org for more information.