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Stigma Prevents People from Seeking Treatment for Mental Health


Social stigma against mental illness often prevents people – especially men, minorities and older adults – from seeking treatment, according to two behavioral health professionals.

“If you don’t feel comfortable enough to talk to a friend about your mental health struggles, you’re certainly not going to talk to a therapist to seek that first step to get help,” said Tim Fanning, a behavioral health care coordinator with Memorial Behavioral Health, part of Memorial Health.

A stigma is something that people are typically ashamed of; it’s a “badge of disgrace” that people believe they have to wear, said Cody Spoonmore, also a behavioral health care coordinator at the mental health agency.

“Unfortunately, mental health carries an extremely heavy stigma,” Spoonmore said. Societal pressure is responsible for a great deal of that stigma, he said, but a wealth of easy-to-access misinformation on the internet shares the blame.

Men, minorities and older adults are all less likely to seek help for mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety disorders, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. Stigma against seeking treatment for mental health issues tends to be at the root of an individual’s hesitancy.

Men often do not seek help for mental health issues because they have been conditioned to believe asking for help is not masculine behavior, Spoonmore said. “We’re supposed to be tough. We’ve had it drilled into our heads since we were boys,” he said.

Minorities face inequities in the health care system. Minorities frequently encounter discrimination and language barriers in treatment settings and don’t often have access to resources, Fanning said. “They’re not given a fair shake.”

With older adults, it’s a generational issue, Fanning said. Society was even more reluctant to deal with mental health issues when they were younger, he said. “They didn’t grow up with mental health being a central focus of life.”

Spoonmore and Fanning both encouraged individuals who are experiencing mental health issues to stop “suffering in silence, which is what most people do.”

“Reach out to someone,” said Spoonmore. “Engage in community resources, like the resources we offer – call our number (217-525-1064).”

“A lot of people don’t have a support system,” Fanning said. “They think it’s their fault they’re lonely, that they don’t have a lot of friends. But a person can build a solid support system without a tight-knit group of friends.”

If you’re too nervous to take that first step in person, Spoonmore said telehealth might be a good option for you. Telehealth allows you to meet with a counselor in the safe and familiar environment of your own home, he said.

For help taking that first step, people have a couple of easily accessible options:

The Living Room provides an alternative to hospital emergency rooms for adults experiencing psychiatric emergencies. Available to anyone over the age of 18, individuals receive free support from peer and mental health professionals in a safe and calming atmosphere. Upon arrival, individuals are linked with a peer counselor. Hours are noon to 8 p.m. Mondays through Fridays. The address is 710 N. Eighth St. in Springfield.

Memorial Behavioral Health offers same-day walk-in services at its clinics in Springfield, Jacksonville and Lincoln. Individuals meet with a specialist who helps determine if mental health treatment and support services are appropriate. Hours are 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays through Fridays. Clinics are at 710 N. Eighth St. in Springfield, 340 W. State St. in Jacksonville and 515 N. College St. in Lincoln.

Another option for individuals seeking help for mental health care is the Memorial Behavioral Health’s Emotional Support Line, a free service, available from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays through Fridays. The phone number is 217-588-6609.