Mental Health Stigma Must Be Challenged

Whenever something devastating happens in our country, changes are bound to be made. It happened after 911 with the creation of the Patriot Act and other various policies. The Sandy Hook shooting is no different. In the wake of this tragedy, citizens are loudly voicing their opinions for the need for gun control. Although school shootings have been occurring for years, the fact that 20 first graders were murdered has rapidly led lawmakers to draw up new laws concerning gun control. While gun control seems to be an obvious thing to be changed, one factor that hasn’t often been considered after a school shooting is mental health. It seems that the severity of the Sandy Hook shooting has seriously brought this to light, and rightfully so. It’s obvious, to me and the rest of America, that someone who feels okay shooting innocent people – especially 6 year olds- has a mental disturbance. I believe that it’s extremely important to consider what’s wrong with the shooter of a gun more than just what their weapon was.

Connecticut Governor Dannel P. Malloy agrees that mental health services need more focus and he has created a task force to do just this. People feel that our current mental health system has problems concerning stigma and insurance funding. Many insurance companies have limited access to mental health services, leaving families without a choice. Fortunately, President Obama’s new Affordable Care Act will provide access to services for 30 million more people. While this is a step in the right direction, the social stigma attached to therapy still keeps people away from seeking these services.

Why is the social stigma of counseling so prevalent? In 2009, Sadie F. Dingfelder explained that society often views the mentally ill as violent and dangerous. What people don’t realize is that people with a mental illness are 2.5 times more likely to be a victim of a violent attack than someone without a mental illness. So where does this viewpoint come from? One simple answer is the media. As we all know, the media tend to focus on stories that contain violence and other negative events. When people hear these stories, they assume that these criminals have a mental illness. Although the idea that the criminal is mentally ill is a possibility, what people don’t realize is that there are thousands of people with mental illness who never commit these acts. To back that up, Dingfelder describes how 1 in 4 Americans suffer from a mental illness. Unfortunately, in 2013, more than 60% of these people don’t seek help, according to the Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Seblius.

So what can be done in order to combat this stigma? Dingfelder suggests that the media highlights all the positive things that those with mental illness have done. This could help people realize that people with mental illness are just like everyone else. If those suffering from a mental illness that aren’t in treatment begin to feel like they won’t be ridiculed or prejudiced against, they may be more likely to get the help they need.

Another idea to help stop stigma comes from Violet and Cyril Franks, who created a scholarship of $5,000 to award to graduate students who will introduce awareness of mental health stigma in schools. This program, called Mental Health Matters, will occur in middle school-aged children. The reason this age group is important is because research has found that younger children tend to confuse mental illness with mental retardation. Middle school is when children are able to understand the concepts of mental illness. Although this idea is specific, the concept is not. Early intervention can help people understand the realities of mental illness and may lead to decreased stigma.

If things can be done to decrease the stigma attached to mental illness, people will be more comfortable to seek help for themselves or a family member. If these people receive counseling, it’s likely that they won’t feel the need to go shoot up a school. Therefore, devastating events like the Sandy Hook shooting will decrease and hopefully stop altogether.

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Posted on February 5, 2013, in Community, Emerging Trends in Psychology and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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