When I was a kid, people would whisper the word “cancer.” Now, professional football players are wearing pink cleats on national television in support of finding a cure.
We all know someone who has been affected by cancer. We cry with them, walk for a cure and share their stories with anyone who will listen. Lives have been changed and people have been healed because of their bravery and willingness to share. Their stories have raised awareness and rightfully caused us all to join the fight to cure cancer in some way or another.
We need to treat mental health the same way. Let’s talk about it out in the open. Let’s not keep it some dark secret. It’s most certainly not a shameful thing to have mental health issues or to ask for help. Especially when that help can provide healing and hope.
The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) reports that one in five Americans live with a mental health condition. And 20 percent of youth ages 13 to 18 live with a mental health condition. The impact of this is felt widely in our communities. NIMH also reports 37 percent of students with mental health conditions ages 14 and older drop out of school. Seventy percent of youth in state and local juvenile justice systems across the country have a mental health condition.
At The Guidance Center, we provide comprehensive mental health treatment to more than 3,000 of our community’s most disadvantaged children and their families struggling with mental health issues or abuse. We know firsthand the challenges these children and families face. We know the hurdles that they bravely overcome to even walk in the door to seek the help and hope they desperately need. But we also know very well that hope and healing is found in treatment. Because of that fact, The Guidance Center is a place of hope, where it is safe to feel sad because there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Burdens can be shared within our walls, so families can evolve and lives can be transformed.
As a community, we can work together to tear down one of those unnecessary hurdles to healing: stigma or the perpetuated shame for having or needing help for a mental health issue. It starts with a simple conversation– being open and honest about your personal struggles and being a safe place for someone else to open up. Eliminating labels and replacing it with compassion is a powerful way to prevent loved ones from experiencing the hopeless isolation stigma creates. Your support could save a life.
It’s especially important that our children hear these conversations, and that we have these types of conversations with them, too. They need to know that it is normal to experience mental health issues. And that for whatever they’re struggling with, there are safe places to get help.
This May, during National Mental Health Month, take that next step to eliminate stigma. Initiate that conversation with a loved one. Learn the facts about common mental health conditions. Find out the warning signs of mental health issues. Bookmark resources, like the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) or Long Beach Health & Human Services’ Mental Health Resource Guide, so if a loved one is struggling, you know exactly where to refer them for help.
I can’t stress enough that mental health is just as important as physical health. Mental health touches all of us in one way or another. It’s important that we talk about it, and share are own stories. Because when we share our stories, we empower others to get the help they need to heal.
Patricia Costales, LCSW, is the CEO of The Guidance Center, a nonprofit child and family mental health agency headquartered in Long Beach.