Reducing mental health stigma key to supporting healthy communities

Guest Opinion

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Dr. Ron Larsen

Mental health and substance use disorders impact an estimated 18,000 children and 54,000 adults in Idaho, including many of our friends, neighbors and co-workers. You likely know someone struggling with mental illness or addiction and are aware of the toll these issues can take on individuals, families and communities. These types of challenges do not discriminate; they affect people from all walks of life, regardless of age, gender, ethnicity and socioeconomic level.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, a national observance dedicated to raising awareness about prevention, treatment, and recovery support resources available in our communities. It’s also an opportunity for each of us to reach out and offer help and encouragement to someone who may be struggling. With the right treatment and support, people can recover from mental health and substance use disorders to live healthy, self-directed lives.

If you want to reach out to someone you care about, you may have wondered what to say, or what not to say. The first and most important step is offering to listen. Don’t feel as if you need to solve their problems or give advice; just be there to listen with an open mind and no judgment. Some other advice for starting the conversation:

Show that you’re concerned in a way that is not confrontational or judgmental. Let them know that you care about them, and you want to check in because you’re concerned about recent changes you’ve noticed in their mood or behavior.

Keep questions simple. Ask how they’re doing, what they’re feeling, and how you can help provide support.

Offer reassurance and hope. Let them know that they’re not alone, and that you‘re there to support them in actively seeking help to feel better.

Suggest reaching out to a local recovery support resource. Ask if they have thought about seeking support from a professional trained to help with these types of issues. Consider having some suggestions ready to share, or offer to research local resources together.

After your initial conversation, stay engaged with your loved one and check in regularly. Having consistent support from family and friends can make a huge difference in people’s well-being.

Raising awareness and reducing stigma around mental health and substance use are keys to supporting well-being within our communities. It’s up to all of us to reach out and encourage our friends, neighbors and family members to access these available resources.

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare works closely with Optum Idaho to ensure Medicaid clients have access to the services that best meet their health care needs. If you know someone in need or you are in need, there is help. Call Idaho Cares line at 211 or the Idaho Suicide Hotline at (208) 398-HELP (4357).

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