Paying attention to mental health issues is just as important as taking care of physical health. We do regular check-ups with our GP, and typically make annual appointments with the Dentist, Gynecologist, Ophthalmologist, etc. However, why don’t we do routinely check-ups on our mental health?
Unfortunately, one of the main reasons is that mental health is still more subject to judgements and stigmatization than other physical illnesses. The effects of the “stigma” in mental health can be devastating, preventing people from getting early treatment to improve their symptoms which can trap us in a downward cycle.
There are many potential negative consequences of stigma, such as the lack of understanding by family and friends, less opportunities for work and education but also a negative impact on social life, or even being a victim of bullying or physical/psychological abuse. Hence, in many cases, when having mental health symptoms, we are more inclined to not seek professional help.
Also, mental illness is not as concrete as physical illness. Therefore, getting the right diagnosis can be sometimes a challenging process. However, nowadays using clinical interviews, psychological testing and statistical measures in combination with the experience of a senior Consultant Clinical Psychologist, we can detect and diagnose mental health issues much more precisely, and recommend the appropriate tailored treatment. Even if you do not meet the specific criteria to be diagnosed with a mental health disorder, a Clinical Psychologist can determine those personality traits, thoughts and symptoms that need to be readdressed before triggering a more serious issue, or simply to improve your quality of life.
Furthermore, stigma does not just come from other people. We often hear people saying “I am bipolar”, “I am anorexic”, “I am an addict”…Remember that you are not an illness and that does not describe you as a person. Instead, you can say “I have schizophrenia” or “I have an addiction”, as having schizophrenia or having an addiction to something is only a part of your life and not a definition of whom you are.
Sometimes we can also erroneously consider that our condition is a mark of personal weakness and that we should be able to improve without any help. However, seeking help as well as enlightening and educating ourselves about our condition can help us understand and handle specific situations, thereby gaining self-esteem and self-control to avoid damaging self-judgement.
In summary, if we have a mental health condition or symptoms, we should not let the fear of being “labeled” prevent us from getting professional help. A psychological treatment provided by a qualified mental health clinician can help us to improve symptoms and overcome difficulties, developing coping mechanisms, setting new goals, thus increasing our quality of life.
Dr. Andrea Pousada-Fitzpatrick
Senior Clinical Psychologist Consultant