Mental Health Treatment: Saving Lives, Yet Stigmatized
By Brooke Schwartz, LMSW
Last year, Lady Gaga co-authored an op-ed for The Guardian highlighting the devastating and deadly effects of stigma against mental illness. She begins the article with a shocking statistic: by the time you finish reading her article, at least six people will have killed themselves around the world. “Suicide,” as Lady Gaga explains, “is the most extreme and visible symptom of the larger mental health emergency we are so far failing to adequately address.”
Calling this an emergency is no understatement — in 2017, suicide was the second leading cause of death among people between 10 and 34 years old. And suicide is only one piece of the puzzle. About 1 in 5 people in the United States live with a mental health condition (that’s around 60 million people) while less than half of them receive mental health services. Despite the fact that treatments have been (and continue to be) developed and well-researched, people are still struggling to reach out for help.
Why is this the case? Lady Gaga says it well: “Stigma, fear and lack of understanding compound the suffering of those affected [with mental illness] and prevent the bold action that is so desperately needed and so long overdue.”
Lady Gaga’s not the only celebrity to speak out about stigma as a barrier to mental health treatment. A few months ago, upon receiving the 2019 McLean Award for Mental Health Advocacy, Selena Gomez reflected, “I have feared being misunderstood and judged” for having experienced mental illness.
Stigma takes on many faces. Some people feel stigmatized by their family members and communities when they reveal their mental health conditions or express a desire to seek treatment. Others self-stigmatize in response to experiencing shame — shame about not being able to resolve their problems themselves and needing help at all. For some, this leads to a belief that one is deserving of or at fault for their mental health issues.
Not only do Lady Gaga and Selena Gomez share frustration about the role stigma plays in getting help; they’ve also both received mental health treatment in the form of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). Each has shared in the media the impact DBT’s had in their lives.
Originally developed to treat chronically suicidal individuals diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder, DBT is a treatment that has evolved into so much more. Over time, research has shown that DBT is an effective treatment for people experiencing a wide variety of symptoms and mental health conditions including anxiety, depression, non-suicidal self-harm, eating disorders, and substance abuse, among others. It’s a quality treatment that helps a wide range of people.
When it comes to seeking out and accessing DBT, stigma is certainly a barrier. It’s hard to admit you need help. It’s challenging to know whether the therapist you reach out to will actually help you. Sometimes problems seem so overwhelming you just don’t know where to start. Many believe DBT won’t help them. Some have done DBT before and think doing it again can’t possibly be worthwhile. There are hundreds of reasons not to seek out treatments (such as DBT) for mental health conditions.
We can’t let stigma be one of them. As Lady Gaga writes, we need to treat those facing mental health conditions with the compassion we would offer to people with physical illnesses or injuries — we must stop ostracizing, blaming, and condemning. This extends to how we treat ourselves. We can work to reduce stigma by treating ourselves with compassion and getting ourselves the help we want and need.
If you don’t know where to begin, consider whether any of the following might help you get started:
Contact the behavioral health department at your insurance company to find out more about your coverage.
Ask your primary care doctor (or your child’s pediatrician if the treatment is for your child) for a referral for a licensed mental health professional.
Speak to a trusted family member or friend to see if they have a referral.
Research the mental health services offered by your university or employer.
If you’re looking for a DBT therapist in particular, this website can direct you to certified DBT clinicians in your city. This one lists every clinician who has gone through intensive training in DBT. If you live in the greater New York City area, Behavioral Psych Studio provides DBT and other evidence-based treatments. Reach out to 917-497-2760 or firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
This site is for information only. It is not therapy. This blog is only for informational and educational purposes and should not be considered therapy or any form of treatment. We are not able to respond to specific questions or comments about personal situations, appropriate diagnosis or treatment, or otherwise, provide any clinical opinions. If you think you need immediate assistance, call your local emergency number.
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