I asked a licensed mental health counselor, Maura Nolan, her opinion surrounding society today and mental health.
Maura Nolan got her undergraduate degree from Loyola University and a Masters Degree from NYU. She is a licensed psychotherapist in New York State. She has worked as a counselor in Manhattan and currently works within the Rikers Island Prison System.
How does society affect mental health today?
Here is what she had to say:
“Social and self-stigma around mental health creates an environment for self-doubt and shame to flourish. In this environment, we are more likely to further internalize our struggles and less likely to seek
help. We live in a society that endorses stigmatized ideas, and in doing so, people can feel or believe they are less valued because of a psychiatric disorder. This can lead to further self-stigmatization, where individuals are more likely to endorse feelings of isolation, low self-worth, and self-efficacy, and more frequently experience uncomfortable emotions such as anger, confusion, anxiety, and sadness.
Western culture focuses on pathology, or diagnosing an individual when their category of symptoms is classified as “abnormal.” Crack open a
DSM-5 and take a look. While some individuals find solace and relief in putting a label to their symptoms and diagnosis (i.e., Major Depressive Disorder), others find it shaming, frustrating, and
restricting. In my experience, the later is a result of stigmatization and a public lack of knowledge around what it means to struggle with mental illness. We are our own worst critics, so to add another layer
of misunderstanding and rejection from society can lead to devastating effects on our well-being. As a therapist, I have spent years working with individuals who struggle with severe mental illness. I’m always reminding my clients, no matter the circumstances, that they are not their illness. As a practitioner of positive psychology, I am always
focusing on the strengths, goals, and positive characteristics of my clients as opposed to their diagnosis.
So how do we change? It’s much easier said than done, but we as individuals can promote growth and change within our communities. There are many barriers to adequate health care in our country,
particularly around mental health. While this affects everyone in our society, it deeply hinders our underserved populations, those with low socio-economic status, and people of color. On both a personal and societal level, we must educate ourselves and bring to light false and negative beliefs around mental illness. Our society has instilled
beliefs that individuals struggling with mental illness are meant to be feared. That they are irresponsible. That they are helpless or weak. We must replace these false beliefs with truths and facts. That
mental illness knows no bounds across race, gender, or sexual orientation, and that it could happen just as easily to me as it could to you. The more we empathize and come in contact with those who
suffer at the hands of mental illness, the less likely we are to stigmatize.”