Former Lebanon Rotarian and mental health professional, Suellen Griffin, was our speaker today.

Suellen spent 12 years at West Central Behavioral Health, then left the Upper Valley to take a position in Maine as the Interim President Maine Behavioral Healthcare.  For the past 4 years, she has been working as consultant. Ron stated she is working with an organization in Chicago.
Suellen started her talk by reminding us that better management of behavioral health issues has been on the rise especially post covid. Many are more aware of the problems of anxiety and depression.
She then shared that addressing behavioral and mental health issues can be hard to address due to the stigma that comes with many of the diagnoses.
Stigma can be defined as a set of negative and often unfair beliefs that society or groups of people have abut something. These sets of negative attitudes and beliefs can lead to fear and apprehension.
She reminded us that mental illness isn’t an IQ issue. Like physical illness, the causes and understanding of mental illness can vary.
She shared that over the years, even health professionals that deal with mental health issues can be stigmatized.  Many thinking, “why would someone want to work with that population?”
Why is Mental Health Stigmatized? Suellen reviewed the following causes of stigma:
  • Lack of understanding.  Often, we can believe that people with mental health issues can cause harm to others.
  • It is easy to avoid someone who has a mental health issue out of fear rather than trying to understand the experience being experienced by the person with mental illness.
  • It can be easier to consider that it isn’t as serious as other medical issues.
  • Compared to medical illness, persons with mental illness can be perceived by the public to be in control of their disabilities and are responsible for causing them. We can lack empathy for persons with mental illness, instead we can react with anger and believe that help is not deserved.
  • Cause of mental illness still not well understood. But this does not mean it less serious than physical illness.
Examples of Mental Health Stigma:
  • When the individual is viewed as attention-seeking or weak when they reach out and get professional help.
  • When others use harmful language such as crazy or insane.
  • When people make jokes about the mental health disorder.
  • When people avoid others with mental health conditions because of fear or misunderstanding.
  • When family or friends tell someone with depression that they can get better if they “work out or get more sun”.
Harmful Effects of Stigma:
  • People become reluctant to seek help or treatment.
  • Family, friends, coworkers and others don’e have a good understanding about the mental illness.
  • There can be fewer opportunities for work, school, social activities or housing.
  • Heath insurance doesn’t adequately cover mental health treatments.
  • The belief that you can’t improve your situation.
Steps to Cope with Stigma:
  • Get Treatment.
  • Don’t let stigma create self-doubt and shame.
  • Don’t Isolate yourself with your illness.
  • Join a support group.
  • Get help at school.
  • Speak out against stigma.
There are now many treatments that can help individuals find ways to manage their illness…helping the individual to be able to lead a full and productive life.
One example she shared what the strides that have been made in understanding depression, and how medications can help break the cycle of depression.
Suellen ended her talk by asking all of us to reflect on this question, “If you knew your neighbor was being treated for a mental health condition, would you think differently about them?”
Mental illness shouldn’t define who you are.