Mental illness does not discriminate

Going to the doctor can be intimidating.

Their practices are busy, and it can be uncomfortable to share symptoms with your physician when you know the clock is ticking. It might just be easier to keep quiet. You may also fear being negatively judged.

“If I tell my doctor that I think my anxiety might be a problem, will they dismiss all of my concerns as being ‘in my head?’ Will they think I’m just looking for a prescription?”

These are common thoughts going through the minds of many people sitting in their doctors’ offices. These selfdoubts, along with widespread stigmas and stereotypes about mental illness, have contributed to an atmosphere of silence. It is easier to say nothing, to suffer in silence, than it is to seek help for mental health problems.

Mental illness is everywhere. It does not discriminate. Men and women; young or old; rich or poor — all are at-risk. But we know that treatment for mental illness works. In fact, according to the National Institute of Health, 80 percent of people who seek treatment for depression show an improvement in symptoms with treatment. What is distressing is that, according to the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, nearly two out of three people suffering with depression do not actively seek nor receive proper treatment.

When 80 percent of individuals who seek treatment can find success in recovery, any lives lost to mental illness highlights the failure of our mental health and health care systems to reach those in need.

With that success rate, what gets in the way of seeking treatment? For many, it is the fear of the stigma or the shame that can be associated mental illness.

The good news for Sheboygan County is that many organizations are working hard to lessen that stigma — to let people know treatment is available — to create the programs that bring some amount of relief to those with mental health disorders. The community is working to make the seeking of treatment the easy part of recovery.

One initiative is to increase mental health screening in primary care visits. Another is bringing treatment options into the schools. At Aurora Sheboygan Memorial Medical Center, we are also working to provide a comprehensive approach to meeting the varying mental health needs of all of our patients. With the opening of our new mental health Intensive Outpatient Program, we now have a full range of care to treat individuals struggling to manage their emotional wellness.

This new program joins our mental health Partial Hospitalization Program; both programs are aimed to help prevent inpatient psychiatric hospitalization and offer more intensive treatment options that individuals can receive on an outpatient basis.

Silence doesn’t help.

And for some, that silence can be life-threatening. Mental Health America reports that in 2014, Sheboygan County suffered the loss of at least 18 of our neighbors, friends, teachers, students and parents to suicide. That is 18 too many. And when the statistics show that 80 percent of those 18 people might have been saved by treatment, those 14 deaths become unacceptable.

For those of you who are struggling, or have loved ones and family members struggling, please know that treatment works and silence kills. Talk to your primary care physician. Or contact our Intensive Outpatient Program at 920-451-7894 for more information.

It’s time to speak up.

Shelby Kuhn MSW, LCSW, SAC, is a licensed clinical social worker, psychotherapist and substance abuse counselor at Aurora Sheboygan Memorial Medical Center and is also a member of the HSC2020 Mental Health and Substance Abuse Committee.