Counseling Corner: Treat mental health as seriously as physical health

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Seeing a physician isnít embarrassing if we have the flu, a high fever, or other serious health problems. No one will criticize us for seeking medical help for a physical health problem and, indeed, most people would fault us if we didnít seek medical help.

Yet we often find that mental health issues bring a very different reaction. People sometimes see mental illness not as a health issue, but as a serious defect, something that marks a person as weak, unstable, perhaps even violent or dangerous.

Such reactions have serious consequences for millions of Americans who could be healthier and happier if they were receiving the mental health help readily available. But many donít seek such help out of fear of being ďlabeledĒ with a mental illness, feeling family and friends wonít understand, or that it could lead to discrimination at work or school.

Too many people who could use help instead see their condition as a sign of personal weakness. They may mistakenly believe that they should be able to control whatever is wrong without outside help.

The American Counseling Association works to educate the public, correct this misinformation and encourage people to seek needed treatment. For example, researchers estimate that one in eight U.S. adolescents is suffering from depression. Each day an estimated 3,000 young people in grades 9 to 12 attempt suicide, yet only 30% of young people facing mental health issues ever receive any type of treatment or intervention. This lack of treatment helps lead to more than 4,600 suicides by young people each year. The statistics are even scarier among senior citizens and our military veterans.

Itís vital for people to recognize that mental health issues are not a reason for shame, but rather a condition that requires treatment by a professional. Anxiety, depression, panic attacks, eating disorders, social phobias and similar problems are not a sign of personal weakness. They are simply conditions that, when treated successfully, can result in a happier, healthier and more productive life.

If you or someone you know is suffering from a mental health issue, donít give in to the stigma, but rather take action for better health. Talk to a friend or family members about whatís bothering you and look into assistance from a mental health professional. Seeking mental health help is not a weakness; itís as logical and right as seeing a doctor for that flu.

Counseling Corner is provided by the American Counseling Association. Send comments and questions to ACAcorner@counseling.org or visit www.counseling.org.

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