Simplifying mental health

Posted on March 19, 2018 · Posted in Uncategorized

Simplifying mental health

  • By Dr. Deborah Smilovitz Foster

Did you know mental health is the largest public health priority and the largest financial burden of any health issue in the world (World Health Organization & World Economic Forum)? The Centers for Disease Control report “Attitudes Towards Mental Illness” found that stigma and embarrassment are two of the top reasons why people with mental illness do not seek help or medication.

Imagine a world where each person has the opportunity for self-peace, through the ability to overcome mental health barriers and obstacles to reach treatment. We need more programs to be developed to identify and manage mental health screenings. Increased awareness and communication are the key ways to move toward acceptance and health.

From the time we are children, we notice the differences in others. We are taught to look at the world from the lens of our upbringing and the life experiences that shape us. One way we are different is how we are wired, like a thermostat that regulates our temperature. Changes occur in our brain, nervous system and thoughts. Some of us are able to overcome challenges more easily than others, while certain people struggle throughout their lives.

Why have we chosen to overlook the importance of our mental health? One of the main reasons is the stigma of mental illness. A stigma, a mark of shame, is one of the greatest obstacles for an individual to overcome. Through prevention and scientifically proven treatment methods we could radically reduce suffering and the global financial burden we bear.

These labels stem from misinformation, isolation and negative attitudes—from a lack of understanding about a behavior, or an appearance of communication that then gets labeled as not “normal.” This leads to further rejection and an increase of mental-health conditions, and has been linked to the worsening of health. What are the signs or what do specific words mean? We need to take care of our mental health by being able to discuss emotions, thoughts and feelings within ourselves.

Mental health stigma creates a wall that stops compassion and conversation. Having compassionate conversations builds inclusiveness and teaches others what you have learned. We can do this by starting to treat all as equal and reducing discrimination.

Let’s create conversations and a culture that is accepting of each person as we work toward prevention. We can work together and help create a supportive environment that can empower and care for the individual. This leads to understanding, including and caring.

Can you imagine a world where we can share our feelings and thoughts more freely? Where we can move toward health for all human beings? There’s a lot of work to be done—only 60 percent of the people needing mental health treatment receive it. If we each do our part toward ending negative perceptions about mental health and raise awareness, we can live in a more loving, safe and accepting world.

Deborah Smilovitz Foster, PhD, has a private clinical practice, is a wife and mother, and enjoys playing tennis and spending time in nature. Her column appears monthly in the Coastal View and can be reached at Dr. Foster serves on the board of HopeNet of Carpinteria (, whose mission is to improve mental wellness of our residents and to lessen the number of suicides and attempted suicides in our community through information, support, training and advocacy

About the Author

Becki Norton, M.Ed. is a co-founder of HopeNet, Carpinteria resident, and School Psychologist with the Carpinteria Unified School District.