EHF has a unique opportunity to help strengthen the ability of congregations, communities and leaders across the Diocese to support those with mental illness and work toward reducing the associated stigma.
The Problem: What Does Stigma Have to Do with Mental Health?
Mental illness cuts across all lines of class, race and social status. Few adults can honestly say they’ve never experienced an episode of depression or anxiety. According to the National Institute for Mental Health, approximately one in five adults (which is 43.8 million people or 18.5 percent of the population) in the US experiences mental illness in a given year. Less than 60 percent of those experiencing a mental illness seek professional help.
Stigma is a key barrier in accessing mental health services. Mental health stigma results in the public labeling those affected as responsible for their condition, dangerous, unpredictable and/or incapable of making their own decisions. Science and research would say otherwise considering that those suffering from a mental illness, in most cases, are rarely responsible for their condition.
These stereotypes and misconceptions play a significant role, have major implications for public health and can lead to inadequate access to health services. They can also lead to fear of people living with mental disorders, resulting in those with mental illness feeling excluded or isolated from the community such as in relationships, employment, education and even housing. Many elect to forgo seeking mental health services or even sharing their struggle with others, fearing they will be misjudged or unwelcome, this continuing the cycle of isolation.
EHF research shows that uninsured Texans are twice as likely to delay seeking mental health treatment. Moreover, stigmatization of mental health disorders contributes to the lack of public and political will to ensure availability of mental health programs and services.
Eliminating the stigma associated with mental illness would improve the livelihood, self-esteem and willingness of an individual to obtain treatment or other services.
Solution: Stigma Reduction Strategies
Stigma related to mental illness is most effectively addressed through advocacy, education and support networks to encourage treatment and resiliency.
Advocacy is an important strategy to decrease stigma as it creates awareness for mental health. Members of congregations and communities can advocate for mental health by writing letters to elected government officials and speaking out against stigma and stereotypes in the media. Advocacy also requires that individuals inform their communities about the truths of mental illness and take action against the injustice and discrimination that stigma creates.
Education dispels the myths of mental health and equips individuals with the knowledge and ability to spread understanding that these illnesses are like any other. These educational interventions emphasize replacing assumptions with real information and consistently lead to improved understanding of the challenges facing those with mental illness, along with greater compassion and the ability to respond in supportive ways.
Support and Inclusivity as a strategy can encourage treatment by reducing feelings of isolation and increasing self-esteem. Studies also show that direct contact and dialogue with people who have mental health disorders helps to improve the overall attitude toward mental health and leads to acceptance of others who suffer with these issues.
Stigma Reduction Resources
- EHF’s Mental Health First Aid workshops – EHF is offering these internationally-recognized, evidence-based workshops to congregations by request. The workshops involve eight hours of training, resulting in greater understanding of how to support those experiencing a mental health crisis. Research has also shown that they have also helped to reduce stigma around mental health issues.
- Meadows Mental Health “Ok To Say” Campaign – This campaign is a new Texas-based movement to increase public awareness about mental health issues and services in Texas, and eliminate discrimination and stereotypes surrounding mental health.
- Hope and Healing Center (HHC) – HHC is a comprehensive mental health resource dedicated to transforming lives and restoring hope through education, training, and supportive service.
- The Grace Alliance – This is a program of faith-based support groups for individuals with mental illness and their families. The very specific training is offered to assist in good communication between individuals with mental illness and their support community in a spiritual setting.
National organizations with offices or chapters in Texas
- National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) – The nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization and leading voice, NAMI works to raise awareness and provide mental health support and education to communities.
- Mental Health America (MHA) – Texas – MHA is the nation’s leading community-based nonprofit, seeking to promote mental health, prevent mental disorders and achieve victory over mental illness thorough advocacy, education, research and services.
- The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) – DBSA is a leading peer-directed national organization providing peer-based service and resources available in local support groups, online 24/7, and via audio and video casts to improve the lives of those living with mood disorders.
EHF aims to reduce mental illness in communities by reducing stigma and discrimination, increasing local knowledge and understanding, creating supportive communities skilled in responding, advancing positive mental health and wellness, and improving access to mental and behavioral health services.