Global Health Blogs with Professor Swahn

Student Reflections on Topics Covered in our Class

Global Health Blogs with Professor Swahn

How do we address stigma around mental illness?

March 7, 2021 · No Comments · Mental Health, Uncategorized

           Mental Health issues are very common conditions that affect an estimated 44 million Americans. Most families are not prepared to accept that their loved ones have mental health issues. There is a stigma around mental health issues, and in some cultures, it is a taboo subject to discuss. In both developed and developing countries people suffer from mental health issues. Men are more likely to commit suicide than women, although women are more likely to have suicidal ideation. Worldwide an estimated 800,000 people die from suicide each year, including men and women ranging from ages 15 to 70+. For this reason, we need to address the stigma that surrounds mental health. We need to create an environment in which people with mental health issues can speak out and share their stories to create a positive impact and inclusion. This should be an environment in which a child can grow free of anxiety and stress; free of social factors that judge or make fun of other’s differences; and a place where there is professional help available if or when needed.

           I personally suffer from mental health issues that include anxiety, depression, and a compulsive disorder. Since I can remember, I knew that something was wrong with me. I was so young, yet I couldn’t figure out what the problem was. Thirty years later I was diagnosed with these mental health issues, which is in part the result of genetics and environmental factors. Growing up in El Salvador, Central America, there were so many taboos surrounding this subject. In El Salvador people do not believe that mental health issues are real, but rather something made up by the affected. I am now 53 years old and I am very well aware and educated about my condition. Physically having a safe environment is very important for the prevention of depression and anxiety in young children.  The environment encompasses the place of residence, the green areas a person has access to, the cleanliness of the home, etc. This is a big issue for developing countries because some of these countries may have civil unrest, violence or even different types of conflict. People living in the slums do not have a safe environment that can shield and protect them from the dangers of this world. This was the case for me. As a young child, I was left to fend for myself all day long because my mother was a single mother that needed to work full-time in order to provide for my necessities.   For that reason, a safe environment is essential for the development and the prevention of mental health issues. 

            Social factors are things that affect a person’s interaction with immediate family members and are important for good mental health. These social factors are physical or sexual abuse within the family environment; racism; sexism; homophobia; lack of social support etc. We humans need social support and the social interaction of other humans, for this reason isolation or rejection can do a lot of harm to our mental wellbeing. In my situation, I was left alone starting at a very young age for long periods of time without parents to give me love and protection that I needed in order to build a more secure environment. I was also sexually molested by a family member, someone that I thought I could trust. This person was an authority figure that was in charge of taking care of me. These are some of the potential experiences that many children, young women, and young men may have by simply growing up in a developing country. These are some of the factors that can affect the mental state of a person; these social factors could be the key to how a child/teenager is shaped into an adult.

           Professional support is also very important for the improvement of mental health issues. As humans we need other humans to thrive in life. Professional support has offered me different strategies to cope with my mental health struggles. One such strategy is learning that I am not the only one suffering with these problems, and therefore not alone. I have also learned to recognise when issues arise that trigger my anxiety and ways to reduce these triggers, so I can avoid these situations. Through the assistance of professional help, I have an outlet to express negative thoughts that tend to hurt me and now strive to turn that pain into helping others. Unfortunately developing countries lack many medical resources that can provide professional support for mental health issues. Professional support can give a person the tools to cope with their problems all while continuing to enjoy a normal life. Professional counselors provide empathy, love and trust which sometimes cannot be found elsewhere. 

           In conclusion, living with a mental health issue is a challenge. Some of these issues are the result of genetics or environmental factors or even both. We need to learn to interact with others with care and with respect. We need to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health issues because they are actual issues that greatly impact the lives of those who have them. Developing countries need to implement programs to teach their citizens how to create a safe environment at home and within their communities. Children need to be educated using social factors such as a family environment free of racism; sexism; homophobia; and other discriminative behaviours that can affect the life of a person in the long run. Finally, professional support should be more available for those in need. Having a mental health issue can limit a person’s ability to excel in many different ways; but if communities come together to support one another this issue can be reduced.


There are no comments yet...Kick things off by filling out the form below.

Leave a Comment

Skip to toolbar