We all know that the term behavioral health, unfairly, comes with a stigma attached in many cases. Clients are reluctant to seek services for mental health issues for fear of judgment by others or being unfairly labeled. Many times, helping clients to overcome this concern is the first step in the work that we do. In our work with clients living in rural areas, this step can be even more difficult, and important. Many of our clients live in small towns, the kind where everyone knows everyone and that means knowing their personal business, or thinking that they do. Clients fear that their neighbor will feel differently about them if they need help for mental health concerns, or see them as weak for not being able to “handle their problems” on their own. Unfortunately, that is the culture that we live in.
This is where education becomes so important. Education not only for our clients themselves, but at a community level. 43.8 million, 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. experience mental illness in any given year and 1 in 25 adults experience a mental illness that seriously affects one or more activities of their daily life. 1 in 5 youth (21.4 percent) ages 13-18, experience a severe mental disorder at some point during their life, and for youth ages 8-15 that number is 13 percent (National Alliance of Mental Illness). The shear number of people affected by mental illness supports the idea that mental illness is a legitimate condition and not a weakness or the result of some fault on the part of the individual. That being said, with the proper tools, mental illness is manageable, and convincing the public that there is no shame in seeking help to obtain those tools, is one of the most important steps to addressing mental health concerns.
As professionals who have chosen to work in the area of behavioral health, who feel passionate about helping our clients to obtain the highest level of well being, we are obligated to advocate for our clients and sometimes that is through the education of others. We should want to help improve the perception of those living with mental illness. It may be helping to disseminate CORRECT information at health fairs, to health clinics or doctors offices in our communities. It may be as simple as correcting someone when we hear him or her make a negative comment about mental illness or behavioral health services or those affected. However small the effort is, when we make an effort to change the perception of mental illness, we are helping to improve the lives of the people that we work with and provide services to on a daily basis, and that should be the goal for each and every one of us!