So with a negative attitude, I entered the training room in my wet, sweaty practice clothes, and I was directed to the trainer who was awaiting my arrival. The only thing I walked away from this conversation hearing was that she was alluding I was anorexic and needed help immediately. She gave me a card with a number to call to set up an initial appointment to be evaluated. I looked at the card, and below the doctor’s name read, “Psychiatrist, Psychotherapist specializing in Athletes with Eating Disorders.” I nodded my head, and agreed to make the phone call, as she firmly explained I did not really have a choice.
I huffed and puffed back to our locker room from the athletic training room. Relieved to enter an empty room incase I was asked any questions, I quickly grabbed my bag, and sprinted to my car. I speed dialed my mom from my cell phone, and she answered hearing me hysterically crying. “What happened Erin? Are you ok?” What’s wrong?” she asked as any parent would when they hear their emotional and distraught child on the other end of the phone.
“Mom, they just accused me of being anorexic. And they are making me call a psychiatrist to set up an initial appointment. This is crazy. They have it totally wrong. I am completely fine, and I don’t need help,” I explained to my mom.
As she always does, my mom calmed me down, and advised me that they were probably just worried and wanted to make sure I am okay. She assured me they were just looking out for my health, and to just follow their instructions.
I sat and sobbed in the car for what felt like an eternity. As tears poured down my face, I thought many things: “A psychiatrist? Only crazy people with severe issues see a psychiatrist. I don’t see a psychiatrist. A therapist is for someone who is weak or has a major problem. I am strong. I am healthy. I am a collegiate student-athlete. I have obviously failed if I am being told to make this phone call. What will other people say if they know I am being treated by a psychiatrist? Nobody in my family, on my team, or in my group of friends has ever needed to see one.”
And those thoughts I had that day are exactly what I am here today to try to help break. And that is the social stigma of mental health.
According to the World Health Organization, approximately 450 million people worldwide have a mental illness, and according to the National Institute of Health, about 1 in 4 adults are diagnosed with mental disorders. Recent data shows women are nearly twice as likely to suffer from major depression than men.
This May, Mental Health America (MHA) is celebrating 65 years of Mental Health month observances by launching a B4Stage4 campaign focused on improving public awareness of mental illness—from prevention to diagnosis to recovery. As part of this initiative, many advocates, one including Counseling@Northwestern at Northwestern University, are addressing a significant barrier that prevents individuals from seeking help in the early stages: social stigmas. These negative attitudes and stereotypical beliefs about those who have mental health conditions are all too common and can deter individuals from seeking treatment in the early stages.