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This May is Mental Health Awareness month. To help foster more dialogue and gather some tangible tips for best practices in managing mental health conditions, we sat down with an expert and staff psychologist at The Menninger Clinic in Houston to shed some light on what to do if you or someone you know is suffering.

All year long, millions of Americans wrestle with the reality of living with a mental health condition. According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, in 2014, one in five American adults experienced a mental health issue. To date, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, accounting for the loss of more than 41,000 American lives each year, more than double the number of lives lost to homicide. It is clear that while mental health conditions have become much less stigmatized, there is so much further we need to go as a society. “Many individuals can still feel embarrassed or be unwilling to share their symptoms, which only leads to an increase in their problems,” says Dr. Michelle Patriquin, staff psychologist in outpatient services at The Menninger Clinic and assistant professor at Baylor College of Medicine. “Part of reducing this existing stigma, however, is being supportive and open to someone who appears to be struggling with mental illness.”

Dr. Patriquin finds from her professional experience that family members, colleagues, and friends can dismiss mental health issues and empathy sometimes can be a challenge. “At the micro (individual) level, we can all do our part and reduce the stigma associated with mental illness within our own families and friends, which then in turn, over time, improves the perception of mental illness more broadly in our communities and eventually the U.S.” She finds that dismantling the stigma associated with mental health conditions is vital to ensuring that all who need to access treatment are not afraid, embarrassed, or hesitant to access it. 

Aside from working to break down the cultural barriers associated with mental health challenges, Dr. Patriquin states that there are several steps a person can take if they or someone they know is in need. 

  1. Speak with your primary care physician about symptoms of mental illness – they often know of good referrals in your area and can serve as a guide in connecting you with the appropriate point of care.
  2. Get a psychiatric/psychological assessment completed. For example, Menninger offers multidisciplinary evaluations that are really helpful in clarifying diagnoses, presenting treatment options, and offering recommendations. Assessments like these can be helpful in getting problems clarified and getting a “jump start” on effective treatment.
  3. Don’t be afraid to share your experience with others; reach out to friends, family members, and professionals. It is very common to struggle with symptoms related to mental illness at some point in your life and the earlier you get help the more likely it is that you will be able to manage your symptoms.

If we all do our part and take the proper steps we can work to reduce the stigma associated with mental illness not just this month, but every month and every day. “Talking about it is the first step. From there you need to make sure you keep the conversation going and access the resources and treatment you need,” says Patriquin. “Above all else, know that you’re not alone and there are so many well-qualified professionals who can help you feel better.”

To find mental health services near you, please visit the Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator, a confidential and anonymous source of information for persons seeking treatment facilities in the United States or U.S. Territories for substance abuse/addiction and/or mental health problems.

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