HEALTH MATTERS: It’s time to end the stigma of mental health issues

Sixty-eight years ago, Mental Health America designated May as Mental Health Month to raise awareness about mental health conditions, signs of mental health and the importance of finding the right treatment and coping techniques.

“Risky Business,” is this year’s theme to identify the habits and behaviors that increase the risk of developing or exacerbating mental illnesses.

“Sixty million people in the United States face the day-to-day reality of living with a mental illness and every American is affected through their friends and family,” said Mary Giliberti, CEO of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. “Mental Health Month is a time for us all to come together, to inspire people, raise awareness and become involved so we can build better lives for millions of people with mental illness.”

For years, Dorothy Johnson heard voices in her head and was in a constant state of turmoil.

“I would drink alcohol, keep to myself and never talk about my personal problems or my family history,” Johnson said. Her brother suffered from a form of mental illness and committed suicide to stop the voices he heard in his head.

About 16 years ago, Johnson was diagnosed with major depression. She was treated with medication.

“I did not continue taking the medication because I didn’t like the way it made me feel,” said Johnson, who is a member at Mental Health America of Los Angeles.

Mental Health America states that historically, communities of color experience unique and considerable challenges in accessing mental health services.

She found an alternative method to cope when she was introduced to the MHA Village, a program offered at Mental Health America of Los Angeles. As stated on the MHA website, “The Village blends all the parts of mental health recovery — treatment, rehabilitation, family and community support, and self-help — to provide the help adults with mental illness need for self-sufficient lives.”

Johnson also attributed her stability to her personal service coordinator whose role is to assist individuals with gaining, restoring, improving or maintaining daily independent living skills.

“My PSC was very helpful,” Johnson said. “We became friends.”

“I am able to deal with life better. God and working at MHA really helped me heal.”

Lauded as a pioneer of the recovery movement, the MHA Village is a model for changing mental health care.

Miyume McKinley, a Los Angeles-based licensed psychotherapist, is also focused on breaking the negative stigmas associated with mental health and through her talk radio show, “Epiphany with Miyume,” changing the way people perceive mental illness.

“Seeking therapy does not mean you are crazy, weak, or that you don’t have faith,” McKinley said. “It means you are smart enough to recognize when things are becoming too difficult or overwhelming, strong enough to acknowledge that learning new ways of coping will be helpful, and brave enough to face your challenges head on.”

According to Mental Health America, suicide is the eighth leading cause of death in the United States and mental illness plays a role.

“One of the reasons that people often ignore their mental health is due to the fact that it is an internal challenge versus something visible 9such as a deep cut or the flu),” McKinley said. “Most are ashamed and worry about being judged by others so they often suffer in silence. Most assume that they are the only one experiencing symptoms of anxiety or depression. It’s time to break the negative stigma associated with mental health. “

The National Alliance for Mental Health reports that:

• Approximately one in five adults in the U.S. — 43.8 million people, or 18.5 percent of the population —experiences mental illness in a given year.

• Approximately one in 25 adults in the U.S. — 9.8 million people — experience a serious mental illness in a given year that substantially interferes with or limits one or more major life activities.

• Approximately one in five youth aged 13–18 (21.4 percent) experiences a severe mental disorder at some point during their life. For children ages 8–15, the estimate is 13.3 percent.

• 1.1 percent of adults in the U.S. live with schizophrenia.

• 2.6 percent of adults in the U.S. live with bipolar disorder.

• 6.9 percent of adults in the U.S. — 16 million — had at least one major depressive episode in the past year.

• 18.1 percent of adults in the U.S. experienced an anxiety disorder such as post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and specific phobias.

• Among the 20.2 million adults in the U.S. who experienced a substance use disorder, 50.5 percent —10.2 million adults — had a co-occurring mental illness.

“When we engage in prevention and early identification, we can help reduce the burden of mental illness by identifying symptoms and warning signs early—and provide effective treatment Before Stage 4,” said Paul Gionfriddo, Mental Health America president and CEO. “We need to speak up early and educate people about risky behavior and its connection to mental illness — and do so in a compassionate, judgement-free way.”

“There are various things that can be done to aid in coping when our mental health is in jeopardy or simply to maintain a healthy mental state,” McKinley said. “Journaling can seem cliché’ however, is one of the most helpful ways of managing emotions.”

She added: “Keeping feelings bottled up takes a toll on our mental health. Other ways of coping include: yoga, meditation, listening to music, exercise, writing poetry, drawing, mindfulness, visual imagery, gardening, utilizing support systems (family, friends, church groups, etc.) and/or seeing a therapist.”

If you are experiencing three or more symptoms and they are impacting your relationships with family, friends, romantic partners, job performance, academic performance or interactions with others while in the community (i.e., taking your anger out on the person at the checkout counter); seeking therapy can be helpful, Miyume McKinley says.

There are various therapeutic interventions such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (often used to treat anxiety and depression), Trauma Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (often used for trauma) or Solution Focused Therapy (short-term therapy).

Since no treatment works for everyone, Mental Health America, and other medical professionals, offers many different treatment options.

• Psychotherapy explores thoughts, feelings and behaviors, and seeks to improve an individual’s well-being. Psychotherapy paired with medication is the most effective way to promote recovery.

• Medication does not outright cure mental illness, instead it helps manage symptoms. Medication paired with psychotherapy is the most effective way to promote recovery.

• Case management can help assess, plan and implement a number of strategies to facilitate recovery.

• Hospitalization may be necessary in a minority of cases so that an individual can be closely monitored, accurately diagnosed or have medications adjusted when his or her mental illness temporarily worsens.

• A support group is a group meeting where members guide each other toward the shared goal of recovery.

• Complementary and alternative medicine may be used in place of or addition to standard health practices.

• A self-help plan is a unique health plan where an individual addresses his or her condition by implementing strategies that promote wellness.

• Peer support refers to receiving help from individuals who have suffered from similar experiences.

McKinley notes, “Therapy is an opportunity to talk without judgement, to obtain inside without criticism, to learn skills that will aid in self-improvement, and is one of the bravest most important things you can do and one of the best gifts you can give yourself.”

Mental Health America reports that 1.2 million individuals living with mental illness sit in jail and prison each year; more than 7.5 million of adults with a mental illness remain uninsured; and 1.8 million youth experienced severe depression. It’s time to stop judgment and criticism about mental illness.


National Alliance on Mental Illness –

Mental Health America –

National Medical Association –

Mental Health America of Los Angeles –

National Institutes of Mental Health –

Epiphany Counseling –

Epiphany radio show –

Marie Y. Lemelle, MBA, a public relations consultant, is the owner of Platinum Star PR and can be reached on Twitter @PlatinumStar or Instagram @PlatinumStarPR. Send “Health Matters” related questions to and look for her column in The Wave.


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