Stigma Report

Strong Military Families
November 8, 2014
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Stigma Report

It dawned on me at the meeting today, that a huge part of the reason that there is a stigma about going to “mental health” is because the healthcare system is teaching us to discriminate between physical health and mental health. That segregation is lead by trusted professionals who practice physical health and who have until the late 1990’s stigmatized mental health. After all, most of the people who work in “mental health” aren’t even doctors. So, if the professionals stigmatize “mental health”, how can veterans and civilians do anything else?

For example, your primary care doctor will refer you to a doctor of the type of healthcare you need, i.e. cardiologist, proctologist, radiologist, neurologist. But, if you need a doctor for your emotional problem, they won’t refer you to a person. Instead, the primary care people will refer you to “mental health” and let them figure out where you need to go. That practice tells you that the healthcare professionals do not view mental health workers as an integral part of the healthcare system. We think a person with a broken arm has a medical problem but a person with a broken spirit is just nuts because the medical profession doesn’t consider treatment of the broken spirit to be the practice of medicine.

If you would pass on to Dr. Singh my request that the VA stop segregating mental health, it would help us all to stop adopting the AMA’s stigma of the mental health care industry. There can be psychiatry department. There doesn’t need to be a mental health department. Or, they could rename everything else. For example, change radiology to radiological health, or cardiology to heart health. I suggest he try to encourage primary care doctors refer to psychiatrists and social workers just as directly as they would refer to a podiatrist. And, to encourage them not to say “I’m going to refer you to mental health”. They don’t say “I’m going to refer you to vascular health”. They might say they are going to refer you to a _______ specialist. That would work for a bone specialist or a depression specialist. They don’t have to refer you to mental health.

In other words, if Dr. Singh can help the professionals at VAAAHS find ways to operate without drawing attention to the distinction between mental health and physical health, everybody else will soon follow suit. If the VA system thinks that depression is just another physical problem that is worthy of professional treatment, non medical people will get the idea that depression is just another type of illness. Even in that term “illness”, the professionals teach us to segregate. If you have an ulcer, they say you are ill. But if you have ADHD, they say you have a mental illness. If the leaders stop calling it a mental illness and just call it an illness or call it a physical illness, the distinction is doomed. The stigma will die shortly thereafter.

At least that’s the way I see it. Will you pass this on?



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