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Breaking the stigma: There is a “pandemic with mental health,” says prevention specialist

COVID-19 is not the only pandemic, prevention specialists say we are in a pandemic when it comes to mental health
Published: Feb. 4, 2022 at 1:09 PM CST
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DOTHAN, Ala. (WTVY) - Experts continue the push to break the stigma against talking about mental illness.

“Not only are we going through the coronavirus pandemic, but we’re also going through a pandemic with mental health,” Jalyn Harrison, prevention specialist at SpectraCare, said.

One in five American adults experience mental illness each year, that’s according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. They also state that suicide is the second leading cause of death among people ages 10 to 34.

“One thing that I have realized is that we talk about suicide after we hear about a completed suicide,” Harrison said. “We talk about it once we hear someone who was well known in the nation that completed suicide.”

NAMI states that 1 in 20 adults experienced serious mental illness in 2020, that’s 14.2 million people.

“It’s one of those things that we put a stigma on,” Harrison said.

A stigma that many like people like Harrison are working to break.

“It is a hard conversation to begin, it’s not something that’s going to be comfortable,” Harrison said. “And sometimes if we want change to happen, we have to get out of those comfort zones.”

46 percent of people who take their own life had a diagnosed mental health condition.

“We like to put a stigma on suicide because some people say that, ‘it’s for the weak,’ some people say that, ’you shouldn’t do that, it’s selfish,’ however whatever the myths are, those people are hurting,” Harrison said. “They are in a place of pain, they are in a place of depression, anxiety, that’s the only thing that goes through their mind that is their way of getting help, it’s their way of getting out of it.”

Rose Blakey-Phillips is a behavioral health therapist at Medical Advocacy Outreach in Dothan. She said the best way to help others is to learn the warning signs.

“I’ve had people tell me, that if they had known the warning signs, they would have known better how to help their loved one,” Phillips said. “I have had that said to me so many times over my many years of work in suicide prevention.”

Some of those warning signs include someone talking about having no reason to live, feeling hopelessness or trapped, seeing an increase in use of drugs and alcohol, struggling with sleeping too much or too little and withdrawing themselves from others or feeling isolated.

But sometimes warning signs are not visible.

“We mask, we like to have everything together on the outside and on the inside we are falling apart and I think that’s one thing that as the human race we struggle with is being able to look further into other people not just what’s on the outside,” Harrison said.

Phillips said this is where they come in to help.

“And talk with them about their thoughts and feelings and encourage them in ways that can be very helpful, not just us as counselors, but us as loved ones,” Phillips said.

Wiregrass Suicide Prevention and Services have resumed meetings. They are every fourth Monday night at 6:00 at the Mixson Business Center on Main Street in Dothan. This is a group for people who have lost loved ones to suicide.

If you are seeking help or know someone who is, please call the number National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK. That’s 1(800)272-8255.

Below are a list of websites/resources if you are seeking help regarding your mental health:

SpectraCare

Medical Advocacy Outreach

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)

Mental Health First Aid

Copyright 2022 WTVY. All rights reserved.

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