Who wants to admit that they need to see a psychiatrist? There is often an inner sense of shame and disgrace when people seek psychiatric consultation, yet the pain of mental illness compels many people to seek help from family doctors or psychiatrists. Most people who suspect mental illness initially go to their family doctors. However, it is valuable if the ill person knows the pro's and con's of consulting their family doctor about their mental symptoms as opposed to a psychiatrist or who specializes in diagnosing and treating mental illness.
It has only been within the past decade or two that we have begun to better understand the biochemical causes of mental illness. Although there is still much to be discovered, it is now known that mental illnesses are similar to physical illnesses, since they often have biochemical causes and medical treatments.Most cultures view or have viewed severely mentally ill persons as crazy, lacking will-power, possessed, frightening or violent. One universal element of this stigmatization and discrimination against the mentally ill is the traditional belief that severe mental illness is caused by something supernatural or paranormal, such as possession by spirits, curses or sorcery attacks, influence by the moon ("lunacy"), divine punishment, karma, or is the result of a moral transgression.
The power of stigmatization of the mentally ill is so strong that it keeps mental health low on the list of public priorities for spending. One of the barriers to treatment for the mentally ill is the inability to pay for it, and another is how to access it. Policy-making and funding decisions for mental health by federal, state and local legislators result in inadequate government-funded mental health care facilities, insurance reimbursement, community programs and treatment specialists available.
There is a time when a mentally ill person may realize that they need help. Symptoms worry them or others enough that they consider getting treatment. But the White House Conference on Mental Health identified stigma as the most important barrier to treatment for the mentally ill. (1) More than any other reason, stigma, or fear of the consequences of being labeled "mentally ill", prevents a person--who realizes he or she may need help--from reaching out for that help. Powerful and pervasive, the stigma of mental illness makes it hard enough for a person to personally admit that he or she has a mental illness, much less talk about it to others.
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