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Challenging the stigma of mental health

By: Mah Noor, PharmD Candidate c/o 2021

As society flourishes, life seems to grow more complex. Among the barrage of images, voices and social media campaigns, a domestic issue which often seems to be neglected in the United States is the overall deficit in addressing various aspects of mental health.

On May 30, 2018 The New York Times published an article entitled, “The Largest Health Disparity We Don’t Talk About” by Dhruv Khullar, M.D., M.P.P. who is currently a physician at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. This article discusses patients with mental illnesses being looked down upon and not being able to use the resources available to them to move progressively towards recovery. They are afraid of being judged and feel as if no one cares for them. In 2015, the British Psychological Society published a report entitled, “Understanding Psychosis and Schizophrenia” which discussed the current diagnostic system that aims to approach mental health illnesses primarily by assessing the biology of mental health disorders. The system was rejected due to the lack of clinically applicable research and the approach of defining people by a devastating label that gives them a stigmatized and devalued status in society. An alternative method of studying mental illness is through assessing how the brain and its trillions of synaptic connections work. Both approaches highlight that mental illnesses are complex, individual responses that are far more pervasive than what we, health care professionals, may have imagined.

Mental health issues are often brought on by strenuous life situations such as taking care of an older family member, suffering through the loss of a loved one, juggling the responsibilities of a busy lifestyle, and dealing with substance abuse, addiction, and bullying. According to the World Health Organization, in 2002, of the estimated 450 million people living with mental or behavioral disorders worldwide, 90 million were drug or alcohol dependent, 25 million suffered from schizophrenia and 150 million had depression.  Healthcare professionals play a vital role in impacting mental health outcomes by educating patients about their psychiatric medications to improve adherence, providing resources and referrals for patients who might need them, and most importantly evaluating medications lists for drugs that may alter a patients’ mental status. The next step involves raising awareness about the importance of mental health and coming up with a cohesive response that addresses the different ways in which individuals approach mental health issues that are triggered by a wide variety of causes. To engage different members of our diverse society, we need a public spotlight. In this regard, there are currently a wide variety of national campaigns such as, “Stopbullying.gov”, which advocates against bullying, “Cure Stigma” by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), which advocates for increased access to necessary resources for individuals dealing with eating disorders and promotes the need for supportive services for those who suffer from addiction and depression.

While these campaigns are making tremendous strides in terms of reshaping the way society views mental health, there is still a need to foster a more personal and engaging understanding of the effects mental illness has on individuals, their families and communities. As future health care professionals, student pharmacists can foster this understanding by playing a more active role in patient care in an inter-professional setting. They can help patients obtain access to appropriate treatments and play an integral role in supporting their choices. A 2012 survey by the College of Psychiatric and Neurologic Pharmacists Foundation and the National Alliance on Mental Illness found that ninety-one percent of people who take mental health medications are very comfortable going to community pharmacies to fill their medications.

Mental illness is a problem that cannot be solved in one sitting. It requires careful, long-term planning and prevention. Antipsychotic medications are helpful but there is little evidence that they correct an underlying biological abnormality. When interacting with an individual who suffers from a mental illness, it is very easy to label them as “crazy” and dismiss them. It takes a lot of time, commitment, courage and patience to figure out why the person is acting the way they are and get to the bottom of their mental, psychological and social health issues. With the right attitude and determination, health care professionals will be successful in better handling the care of those who suffer from mental illness as it is a health issue that impacts the lives of individuals regardless of socioeconomic status, education level, or race. With programs rooted in solidarity and honesty, higher standards of care in mental health patients will prevail.

St. John’s University

Center for Counseling and Consultation 

Marillac Hall, Room 130

Tel: 718-990-6384

SOURCES:

  1. Khullar, Dhruv. The Largest Health Disparity We Don’t Talk About. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/30/upshot/mental-illness-health-disparity-longevity.html Published: 05/30/2018. Assessed: 10/31/2018.
  2. Division of Clinical Psychology. “Understanding Psychosis and Schizophrenia”. The British Psychological Society. https://medicalxpress.com/news/2014-11-psychosis-schizophrenia.html Published: 11/28/2014. Assessed: 10/31/2018.
  3. World Health Organization. Investing in Mental Health. https://www.uniteforsight.org/mental-health/module1 Published 01/01/2013. Assessed: 10/31/2018.
  4. Moore, C. H. The Role of the Community Pharmacist in Mental Health. https://www.uspharmacist.com/article/the-role-of-the-community-pharmacist-in-mental-health Published: 11/15/2018. Assessed: 01/27/2019.
  5. Caley, C.F.; Glen L.S.  Characterizing the Relationship Between Individuals with Mental Health Conditions and Community Pharmacist. College of Psychiatric and Neurologic Pharmacists Foundation and National Alliance on Mental Illness. https://cpnpf.org/_docs/foundation/2012/nami-survey-report.pdf Published: 01/01/2012. Assessed: 10/31/2018.
  6. Luhrmann, T. M. Opinion | Redefining Mental Illness. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/18/opinion/sunday/t-m-luhrmann-redefining-mental-illness.html   Published: 01/17/2015. Assessed: 10/31/2018.

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