Breaking Through the Stigma Surrounding Therapy

The first major legislation for mental health care was in 1946, when President Harry Truman passed the National Mental Health Care Act. This created the National Institute of Mental Health and designated government funds for services such as medication and therapy that were made available to people. Yet more than seven decades later in the year 2017, there’s still a stigma attached to therapy.

While it’s hard to pinpoint when the stigma surrounding therapy began exactly, recent studies show the ongoing hesitation people have toward the option. An article from the Huffington Post states that while 18 percent of Americans suffer from mental health issues, only 13 percent seek treatment. Experts attribute this trend to the common beliefs that people who attend therapy are “weak,” “crazy” or the misconception that therapy is a “waste of money.” It hasn’t helped that the media has continually stereotyped mental health issues as something that only afflicts those who are homeless, incarcerated or live in poverty.

One way to fight the stigma is by educating through facts. The word “therapy” itself is very vague because it implies a singular entity. There are in fact several different types of therapy, including behavioral therapy, psychotherapy, family counseling and marriage counseling, among others. It’s commonly assumed that all mental health care professionals have the same level of training and certification, when in fact there are several different kinds of specialties. Examples are psychiatrists, who are trained for mental health care and can also prescribe medication, while psychologists are similarly trained, but don’t have the authority to write prescriptions. Mental health care professionals may specialize in a certain field, such as to be a guidance counselor at school or wanting to work with family therapy. Some certifications require a full Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) education.

Another important fact is that people of all ages and backgrounds seek treatment options. Colleges across the nation now provide services right on campus for students, as do grade schools. Reasons for attending therapy can range from stress at work or school to the loss of a loved one to surviving a traumatic experience. It’s important to realize that everyone’s case is different and may require a certain type of treatment.

Another way of addressing the stigma is openly talking about experiences. Several celebrities have spoken about their experiences, like this recent interview with Prince Harry on how he sought professional help years after the death of his mother, Princess Diana. Reading about people’s experiences lets others know that they are not the only one going through something and can encourage them to share their story. The internet has provided a platform for millions of people to share their stories through blogs and even video diaries. People also channel their feelings into creativity and constructive activities, such as writing, art, music, performing and blogs. There are entire online communities built upon the shared ground of mental health care.

When it comes to accessing therapy, one of the most common ways is the traditional face-to-face meeting with a provider. However, technology has opened up new opportunities for accessing therapy. Telehealth makes it possible for patients to electronically communicate with their providers. One type is psychiatry care by videoconferencing, where patients and their providers talk virtually. All that is needed is internet access and a device like a laptop, tablet or even a mobile phone. This is especially convenient for people who may be unable to travel or may not live within close proximity to a facility. Patients and providers are able to connect across the state or across the country.

By continuing to learn more about mental health, people can work together to break down the stigma around it.

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