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A look at mental health care, stigma surrounding it

A look at mental health care, stigma surrounding it

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) - Living with mental illness can be difficult, even debilitating, but for many, just talking about mental health issues can also be uncomfortable.

It's that stigma that at times keeps communities from devoting the resources needed to treat mental health, and it can even keep patients from seeking care.

"Everyday when I'm at work, I have to be on my toes," says Julia McDermid, a peer specialist who helps others with their mental health problems.  As a peer specialist, Julia McDermid knows how important it is to help others get the help they need.  "People who are solid in their recovery can be a really strong link to people who are out there suffering and trying to get into therapy," says McDermid, "or trying to commit to working some form of therapy."

It's not an easy commitment to make.  It's not easy for people to admit they need help, especially when their disease is working against them.  "When you're depressed or your emotions are out of control or your thoughts are confused it can sometimes be hard to be really resourceful for yourself," says McDermid, and when she says that, she knows first-hand.  McDermid is herself suffering from a serious mental health problem, "I openly admit to having borderline personality disorder."

Before being diagnosed in 2005, McDermid struggled with even the idea that she could be sick.  "You went through high school, you went through college, you have a college degree, you've had jobs, really good jobs, why is this happening now?" says McDermid, "why can't you figure this out for yourself?"  McDermid says it took several years but she is in a stable recovery thanks to her doctors at Mayo Clinic Health System.

But taking that first step for care wasn't easy, "You're battling a lot of things," says McDermid, "you're battling stigma."  "The stigma prevents a lot of people from getting treatment," says Patti Jo Severson, a Behavioral Health Specialist with Gundersen Health System.  Even though mental illness is just that, an illness, it's often misunderstood and can carry with it shame and blame, creating a barrier to treatment.  "Coming out with a mental illness can be a delicate dance for people and that's unfortunate," says Severson, "can you imagine if you were afraid to talk about cancer or heart disease?"  "I think it's really important that we get out there and let people know that these are illnesses just like any other type of, you know, what we see as physical illnesses," says McDermid.

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker signed seven new bills into law just this year dealing with mental health treatment, a move that is seen as a step in the right direction by the mental health field.  All seven bill passed both chambers almost unanimously.

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