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The stigma of mental illness may prevent people from getting help

Nik Shuliahin

Each year in Wichita, an estimated 100,000 people live with a diagnosable mental illness. Yet 60,000 of those same people will not seek or receive mental health care for it. For some, they may not be aware of the treatment options available. Others may cite cost as a hurdle. But for many, it is the unfair stigma associated with mental illness that keeps them from being willing to acknowledge their need for medical treatment.

Why does this stigma exist when we don’t hide our need for treatment for a broken bone, a cancer diagnosis, or a nervous system disorder like Parkinson’s disease? Much of it is the lack of understanding around mental illness. Humans are programed to fear what we do not understand, so lack of understanding behind the causes of mental illness creates the fear. But imagine the teen in your life who lives with an eating disorder. The spouse who lives with depression. The sibling fighting a substance use disorder. The nephew who is self-harming. How does your fear, your judgement, your lack of understanding impact them? Will they come to you for help? Or will you not become aware of their struggle until it’s too late?

Knowledge is a free and bountiful commodity in this age. Many non-profit organizations who work in the field of mental health offer free speaking services to churches, companies, and civic and fraternal organizations with the express purpose of raising awareness in the Wichita community. Please reach out to resources in the area, and let’s work together to eliminate the stigma.

Eric Litwiller has served the south central Kansas community through his work at Mental Health Association since September of 2017. As Director of Development and Communications, he is charged with seeking the private investment required to raise awareness of the scope of mental health concerns throughout the region in an effort to eliminate the unfair stigma associated with mental illness.