Kaylin R. Staten: Fighting Mental Health Stigma Takes Everyone

The Herald Dispatch

May 28, 2018 

On the outside, you may not know someone is struggling with a mental health issue. Most of us mask our problems under comfortable facades. We’re quick to bottle our emotions, please others over ourselves and perpetuate the stigma. We don’t allow the world to see us for who we truly are because our inner monologue barrages us with negative thoughts masquerading as facts.

I’ve exhibited anxiety, specifically perfectionism, since I can remember. In fact, my particular brand of negative self-talk practices can be traced to one afternoon sitting cross-legged in my childhood bedroom thumbing through newly printed photographs. “My cheeks look fat in this one,” my perfectionistic mind rumbled.

I was three years old. Twenty-plus years later, I still struggle with generalized anxiety disorder and my strains of perfectionism in professional and personal endeavors.

 Millions of people have mental health disorders across the United States. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) reported 9.8 million people across the country in 2014 had some type of serious mental illness, with 1.7 million of those aged 18 to 25.

According to RTOR.org, 5.5 percent of the 1.9 million population in West Virginia has a major mental health disorder – not to mention the other individuals somewhere on the spectrum who have not been diagnosed.

Why do people not get the help they need, right when they need it? One of the most basic answers to this question can be summed up in one word: stigma. Speaking up drums up the fear that the person with a mental condition, no matter how minute or grave they think their issue is, will be judged for that quality about themselves. They are afraid they will be marked with a scarlet letter labeling them as “crazy” or “unworthy” or another negative word in which they frame their self-worth and confidence.

For some, speaking out about mental health conditions is a form of breaking the cycle. The intimidation, coupled with fear-based thought processes, can prevent one from being internally honest and seeking necessary help to find solutions.

As a public relations practitioner and local business owner, I communicate for a living, and it’s time to take a stand for mental health. It’s time to start telling an authentic story: Mental illness affects us all in some shape or form, even if we don’t have it ourselves. A loved one, neighbor or passerby on the street could be anxious, depressed or both. It doesn’t mean we are broken, less than someone else without a mental condition or “never going to feel better.” There are solutions. There is hope in every silver lining.

Instead of buying into stigmas, take a step back. If you’re struggling with a mental illness – or what you perceive as one – get the help you need. Several local organizations serve those with mental illnesses and can guide individuals in the right direction tailored to their own needs. Help4WV, a one-stop-shop resource, is available via phone call, text, email or online chat 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days per year.

If you’re on the opposite end, listen with intention instead of using judgmental statements and body language. Practice compassion instead of telling someone to “just snap out of it.” Don’t ignore the problem. If you notice someone is struggling, talk with him or her. One conversation, one kind word, could go a long way. It’s also vital to start early when talking about mental health. No age is too early. Begin talking with the children in your lives about mental health and how to work through issues as they arise and find solutions that work.

Combating mental health stigma takes all of us. Mental illnesses are not one-size-fits-all disorders. The spectrum in the DSM-5 varies with each person, and each of us cannot be lumped into one category. If you have a mental health condition, get the help you need. It’s never too late to work on your mental health and to fight the stigma. I’m living proof of that.

May is National Mental Health Awareness Month. Kaylin R. Staten (ne Adkins) is a writer, public relations practitioner and the owner and CEO of Hourglass Omnimedia based in Huntington.