“Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, but stigma and bias shame us all.” ~ Bill Clinton
It has taken years of awareness building and millions of dollars in promotional messages, but the importance of preventive healthcare is finally sinking in. The Affordable Care Act requires insurance companies to cover preventive care screenings and regular checkups with the goal of helping to keep people physically healthy or finding problems when they are less advanced and more easily treated. That’s good news, right? The acceptance of the need for regular physical checkups is a big step, but what about our mental health? How many of us routinely have appointments for mental health checkups on the family refrigerator calendar?
The truth is, mental checkups are just as important to our overall health. So why are they not a part of mainstream preventive care? Unfortunately, stigma is still the number one reason. Too often people are not comfortable talking about the “feelings” that may be a sign of a mental illness such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, or other diseases of the mind. The same person who wouldn’t think twice about having an annual mammogram or cholesterol screening, is much less likely to seek help for mental or emotional concerns. So if a physical illness is not considered a sign of weakness or flaw in character, why do so many of us still believe having a mental health problem is? It certainly isn’t because mental illness is a rare occurrence. It’s estimated that a quarter of all adults in the U.S. are suffering from some form of mental illness.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month, so this is a good time to remind ourselves that for true wellness, we need to be sure to give the proper attention to our physical and mental health. Even if we don’t make a separate appointment for an annual mental health checkup, we should be sure to discuss our state of mind with our general practitioner. Most physicians are trained to look for signs and symptoms of mental distress, but if our doctor doesn’t ask how we are feeling emotionally, we should be ready to bring up any concerns we have.
We all want to be healthy and happy, but our overall wellbeing is dependent on our caring for ourselves as a whole – body and mind. We live in a complicated, stressful world, and these stresses can take their toll without equal opportunity care.
Let’s shake the old stigma. It’s just a figment of somebody else’s imagination. Let’s not give it the power to keep us from giving our minds the same attention we give to keeping our bodies healthy and fit.