Anti-Stigma Campaign Targets Young Adults: EAPs Can Utilize a Mental Health Initiative That Asks Young Adults to Support Their Friends and Colleagues Who Need Help

By Cline, Terry | The Journal of Employee Assistance, July 2007 | Go to article overview

Anti-Stigma Campaign Targets Young Adults: EAPs Can Utilize a Mental Health Initiative That Asks Young Adults to Support Their Friends and Colleagues Who Need Help


Cline, Terry, The Journal of Employee Assistance


"To look at me now, you'd never guess what was in my past. I graduated from Boston University with a GPA of 3.8, lived in Japan for a year, and am now working in a public relations firm in the nation's capital. But the truth is, I nearly didn't graduate. During my senior year, I became unable to function. Major depressive disorder shut me down."--Jen

"I grew up in a normal family, and I was a bright kid--I.Q, of 140, straight-A student. But while in college, my concentration began to disappear. I began to hear voices telling me I was nobody--that I was never going to make it in life. My grades dropped from A's to C's. I was hospitalized for schizophrenia. After years of menial jobs, of living on the street, I received effective treatment, re-entered college, and finished both a bachelor's and master's degree. I'm now married, working and living in my own home." --Bill

"I am 27 years old, the mother of a beautiful five-year-old son. I am a daughter, a sister, and a board member of my neighborhood association. I am the executive director of a nonprofit organization. I also have been diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder, personality disorder, severe reoccurring depression, and anxiety."--Adrienne

Jen, Bill, and Adrienne are just three of the millions of Americans who experience mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), an agency of the U.S Department of Health and Human Services, an estimated 24.6 million adults in the United States experienced serious psychological distress (SPD) in 2005.

SPD correlates strongly with serious mental illness. The prevalence of SPD is especially high (19 percent) among young adults--those who are 18 to 25 years of age. Unfortunately, young adults are the least likely to seek help for mental illness.

Jen, Bill, and Adrienne also are typical of many people with mental illness in another vitally important way. Their stories show that with the benefit of appropriate services and medical treatment as well as the support of caring family, friends, and co-workers, they can live productive lives in their communities.

Contrary to some popular beliefs, the reality of mental illness is this:

* Most people with mental illnesses get better, and many recover completely

* Employers who have hired people with mental illness report good attendance and punctuality as well as strong motivation, good work, and high job loyalty

* Most people with mental illness recover and live normal lives (as defined by being able to live, work, learn, and participate in their communities).

"The advances made in treatments and services for mental illness offer the hope of recovery for all," says Dr. Kenneth Moritsugu, acting surgeon general. "Mental illness is not something to be ashamed of. It is an illness that should be treated with the same urgency and compassion as any other illness. And just like any other illness, the support of friends and family members is key to recovery."

MISTAKEN BELIEFS

But if there are more effective treatments available for mental illness than ever before, why aren't more people, including young adults, seeking treatment and services and reaping the benefits? This is an especially important issue for men and women in their teens and twenties, since early treatment can minimize future disability and increase the potential for recovery. This question also has important implications for employee assistance professionals, since young adults comprise almost 12 percent of the nation's workforce.

There are many barriers to seeking treatment, but certainly stigma--which refers to negative attitudes and beliefs that motivate the general public to fear, reject, avoid, and discriminate against people with mental illnesses--plays a prominent role, as do myths and misinformation.

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