mental health

Breaking the Stigma

by Sarah Sondrol

I have a genetic inheritance of anxiety. Many of my family members struggle with this trait and it sometimes affects our mental and psychical health. As I have recently grown more aware of this, I have noticed my sister’s transformation. My sister struggles with general anxiety disorder. At first, my sister was very hesitant to admit her mental health needs, thinking it might make her appear “weak.” She never thought it was something she needed to seek help for and continued to live without any form of treatment. After a while, she finally got the courage to confide in my parents and me. We all came together to give her the support she needed. Since then, she has made countless appointments and visits to get help. Recently, my sister started to receive acupuncture therapy for her anxiety; it worked wonders. She called me up one afternoon and could not contain her excitement. She told me that her experience was so relaxing and therapeutic. She could not believe that tiny needles could make you feel so relaxed. I was so happy for her and couldn’t wait to see her growth and transformation.

My sister is one of the many Americans who struggle with General Anxiety Disorder or GAD. General Anxiety Disorder can be defined as, worry that is hard to control, along with physical symptoms including restlessness, fatigue, loss of concentration, irritability, muscle tension, or sleep loss/disruption (Terlizzi, 2020). GAD is the most common mental health disorder in the United States (Terlizzi, 2020). About 40 million adults in the U.S. suffer from an anxiety disorder, and the majority have a degree of GAD (“Anxiety disorders,” 2017). This statistic translates to about 19% of the total United States population (“Anxiety disorders,” 2017). GAD can come in many different severities and influences the frequency and intensity of the accompanying physical symptoms (Terlizzi, 2020). GAD is largely influenced based on a combination of genetics and the environment (Terlizzi, 2020). Genetically, women are more likely to experience mild, moderate, and severe symptoms of GAD than men (Terlizzi, 2020). Overall, 1 in 6 adults have symptoms (Terlizzi, 2020). In my sister’s case, she was genetically more inclined to have GAD than most, as are many Americans.

So, if GAD is such a common mental health disorder, then why aren’t more people seeking help? There are many reasons for this. First, there is an ongoing stigma (“About ADAA,” 2021). Despite the advancements made in the field of mental health and the light that has been shed on this issue in recent years, many individuals are afraid to fall into a category and become stigmatized (“Why don’t,” 2020). The stigma categorizes individuals who do seek help as “weak.” Another reason individuals suffering from GAD are not seeking treatment is that they, themselves, do not think they need it (“Why don’t,” 2020). The person who is suffering is the one who is labeling themselves as “weak” (“Why don’t,” 2020). The final reason I am going to share is that their conditions or situation make it hard (“Why don’t,” 2020). Some individuals struggling with GAD are in positions that do not allow them to have access to the necessary, professional help they need (“Why don’t,” 2020). Whether it be physical, financial, or geographic, these are contributing factors to why someone does not seek the proper help (“Why don’t,” 2020).

All this information can be overwhelming, especially if you are someone who struggles with GAD. If you are one of the lucky ones that do not suffer from this disorder but know someone who does, encouraging them to seek help or continue to get help is essential. Finding resources and reference points for mental health treatment can sometimes be challenging. The ADAA can help. The ADAA stands for Anxiety & Depression Association of America. This organization provides services for individuals who suffer from disorders like GAD in finding appropriate treatment, support, and other resources (“About ADAA,” 2021). According to the ADAA website, this association not only helps individuals with Anxiety disorders but individuals with forms of Depression, Obsessive-Compulsive disorders, Post Traumatic Stress Disorders, etc. Also, according to the ADAA, nearly 450 million people globally are currently struggling with a mental illness, however, nearly two-thirds of these individuals never seek treatment (“About ADAA,” 202). We can start breaking this stigma one person at a time.

While the ADAA uses the hashtag “#Breakthestigma” on their website and their social media pages, we, as a society, can come together and work to influence our own change. A few simple, yet so important, tasks I leave you with could influence the reformation of a historical ideology/stigma. Becoming aware of your friends and family’s mental health and the signs they present daily is one of the first steps in helping them. Encouraging a loved one who shows signs or has expressed their struggles to get help is another way to have a positive impact. Along with encouragement, making them comfortable, and reassuring them that it is more than okay to get help is vital. In my sister’s case, my family and I continuously checked in on her and kept encouraging her to speak out and get the help she needed. Everyone has the power and ability to do the same. “#Breakingthestigma” can start with you.

Resources:

About ADAA: Anxiety and depression association of America, ADAA. About ADAA | Anxiety and Depression Association of America, ADAA. (n.d.). Retrieved October 24, 2021, from https://adaa.org/about-adaa.
Anxiety disorders. NAMI. (n.d.). Retrieved October 24, 2021, from https://www.nami.org/About-Mental-Illness/Mental-Health-Conditions/Anxiety-Disorders.
Terlizzi, E. P. (2020, September 23). Products – data briefs – number 378- September 2020. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved October 24, 2021, from https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/databriefs/db378.htm.
Why don’t people seek help for mental illness?: High watch recovery. High Watch Recovery Center. (2020, July 7). Retrieved October 24, 2021, from https://highwatchrecovery.org/why-dont-people-seek-help-for-mental-illness/.

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