According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), one in five Americans live with a mental health condition. However, despite how common it is, getting treatment and support for mental health conditions can be challenging for people for a variety of reasons, including worrying about the stigma around getting help, trying to find the right treatment, feeling like the health care system is biased against you and other unique struggles faced by racial and ethnic minority communities.
Finding ways to remove the stigma around seeking treatment for mental health and learning how to advocate for yourself can be a great place to start to improve the mental health of minority Veterans.
July is Minority Mental Health Awareness Month and is designed to bring awareness to these unique struggles. Finding ways to remove the stigma around seeking treatment for mental health and learning how to advocate for yourself can be a great place to start to improve the mental health of minority Veterans.
Stigma Surrounding Mental Health
With 20% of Americans affected by mental health conditions, it seems like we would have an easier time addressing it, but a big hurdle for many people seeking help is the stigma surrounding it. Stigma refers to the shame you might feel from the reactions of your friends, family, coworkers or employers about seeking treatment for your mental health care needs. It may make you feel isolated or convince you to stay silent and ultimately refuse to get help. If this is true, you are not alone. Less than half the adults in the United States get the services and treatment they need even though treatment is effective.
Here are some important things to remember about seeking help for your mental health and wellness:
- Mental health conditions can impact anyone. It doesn’t mean you are weak or that your family and friends have let you down in some way.
- Asking for help or admitting a problem is not a failure on your part.
- You can’t just “suck it up” and “move on” when you are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other mental health conditions.
- Getting therapy does not make you less tough or brave.
- Mental health conditions are common and seeking treatment should not impact your career or how you’re perceived in the workplace.
The National Library of Medicine’s research shows that many Veterans perceive stigma and are concerned about consequences that may result from seeking care. Minority Veterans in particular may be even less likely to use services or have a negative experience when trying.
Some of this relates to cultural norms. You may come from a background that tries to deal with mental health struggles within the family. Or maybe your family expects you to downplay distress or believes it’s not a big deal. Some families may believe seeking help is a weakness or that mental health issues should be dealt with inside the family or your faith—that it isn’t something to be shared with a stranger in the health care community.
These are just some of the cultural norms that may have you feeling like you can’t ask for help. But being self-aware, being assertive and being willing to ask for help can get you the support you need to get better.
Overcoming Stigma to Get the Support You Deserve
Just as you would seek out help for a broken bone or physical pain, you should do the same for your mental health. Here are some steps you can take to get the support you deserve:
- Realize that you aren’t the only one. People in your same position, same culture, who come from a similar background have had the same fears, the same worries about stigma and have still found help. NAMI offers a video series entitled Strength over Silence that shares the stories of all different people who have experienced stigma surrounding mental health issues and overcome it.
- Find an outlet you trust. Whether you want to start with a confidential call to explore treatment options or speak with your trusted primary care provider, find a way to start the process in a way that’s comfortable for you.
- Make your culture and identity an important part of your care. Treatment success relies on a comfortable and open relationship with your treatment team. Explaining how you cope, what your fears are and how you view mental health can help your provider see the whole picture.
- Don’t be afraid to advocate for yourself. Find a provider that understands the role of your faith, your culture, your family dynamics, where you come from and how all of it has shaped you. When you meet a provider, get a sense of their cultural awareness and be assertive. Sample questions could include:
- Have you treated other minorities like me successfully?
- Do you have training in cultural issues and sensitivity?
- How do you see a person’s background influencing treatment?
- What is your communication style?
- Reflect on your treatment. Ask yourself: Did I feel heard? Did the provider integrate my beliefs and background into my treatment plan?
Disparities in Mental Health Care
Even after minority Veterans get past the stigma surrounding mental health, many find additional challenges within the health care system. Health care disparities are real and may include a lack of access to insurance or meaningful treatment options, biased patient-provider interactions and more. Shining a Light on Mental Health Care Disparities offers a closer look at the disparities and how to deal with these experiences.
- The Office of Minority Health has several resources related to minority mental health, including population profiles that break down health data and disparities.
- NAMI devotes an entire section of its site to Veterans and active duty Service members that addresses many specific concerns including career worry, stigma and much more.
- The Make the Connection website connects Veterans, their family members and friends, and other supporters with information, resources and solutions to issues affecting their lives. Make the Connection is full of videos and articles about Veterans who have overcome the stigma of seeking help for mental health conditions, such as PTSD, depression, alcohol abuse and more.
- The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) offers many mental health resources for Veterans, including information about specific mental health conditions such as PTSD and depression, as well as available treatment options.
- The Veterans Crisis Line offers confidential support for Veterans and their loved ones, regardless of whether you are enrolled in VA health care. Call 988 and press 1, or text 838255.
Remember, you are not alone in your mental health struggles. And getting help does not make you weak. You deserve to feel your best!