October 7-13 is National Mental Illness Awareness Week. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) works to fight stigma, provide support, educate the public, and advocate for equal care. Unfortunately, stigma is a mental health barrier that keeps people living with mental health conditions from reaching out to friends and family, and from getting the treatment they need. Stigma can be observed in the way we speak about someone challenged by mental illness. When we refer to people by labels such as “nuts”, ”crazy”, or “wacked”, we may inadvertently send a message to a friend or loved one challenged by mental illness that they brought this condition on themselves and that it’s up to them to “fix it.” This attitude can keep them from seeking the support and care they need to recover. NAMI believes that everyone can play a role in reducing stigma and negative perceptions associated with mental illness. Suggestions include the following:
- Use respectful language to talk about mental health conditions.
- Challenge misconceptions when you hear them.
- See the person and not the condition, and offer support if you think someone is having trouble.
Here at Reliant Medical Group, Behavioral Health works to minimize stigma associated with mental illness by co-locating psychologists, licensed clinical social workers, and psychiatric nurse practitioners in their primary care sites in Auburn, Leominster, Worcester, Southborough and Westborough. These mental health providers are considered to be part of the Primary Care Provider treatment team. Patients at these sites are able to discuss their mental health concerns with their primary care provider, who can then offer a referral to the Behavioral Health provider. This level of care allows for more assessable and acceptable mental health services. Integrating specialized health services such as mental health services into Primary Care is one of the World Health Organization’s most central health care recommendations (WHO, 2001). If you or a loved one are struggling with feeling down, depressed, worried, or overwhelmed, speak to your primary care provider. To obtain more information on the National Alliance on Mental Illness, visit their website: www.nami.org.
Integrating mental health services into primary care. Geneva, World Health Organization, 2007