Mental Health Stigma

Sitka, AK

#1 Mar 31, 2009
Did You Know:

Receiving and providing mental health services in the state of Alaska can be a difficult, if not impossible, problem and may result in lack of services, frustration from clients, prospective clients, or those that may require services, as well as the possibility of unfortunate or catastrophic events. Many of these issues are caused or influenced by the social problem of the stigma associated with mental health services and mental illness.

The general fear and sense of misunderstanding associated with mental illness creates and inflates the idea that mental illnesses are abnormal and a problem which should cause shame. This shame, and misunderstanding by the general public, causes many individuals to deny their mental illness and refuse to seek much needed, or easily provided, services. In some cases the individual ends up in the criminal justice system, one of the largest providers of mental health services in the state of Alaska. This fact alone shows that a gap exists between those people needing services, and those who are receiving them.

Much of this gap is created by the publics’ lack of knowledge about mental health and how to seek help when it is needed. I'm a student with the University of Alaska Social Work program and I have written research papers and conducted some research here in Sitka regarding this issue. I am posting on this forum to try and generate some thoughts on social stigma regarding mental health. I can send anyone my research if they are interested but the forum will not let me attach word documents.

Here is some information you might find interesting:

*Mental disorders occur across the lifespan, affecting persons of all racial and ethnic groups, both sexes, and all educational and socioeconomic groups.

*According to the Alaska Department of Health and Human Services, estimates project about 10 percent of Alaska’s children and youth (age 5-18) have severe emotional disturbances (SED), and 6.2 percent of Alaska’ adult population under age 55 suffer from severe mental illness (SMI) which are categorized as individuals whose mental illness causes significant functional impairments in daily living.

*Alaskans, ages 6-17, comprise less than one quarter of the state’s population, but about one-third of 1996 admissions to community mental health centers.

*Alaska Natives represent almost 30 percent of public mental health service clients even though they make up about 16.5 percent of Alaska’s population.

*Estimates indicate that 14,000 to 15,000 Alaskan young people experience SED, but only 5,500 receive treatment.

*Sitka’s population of those who receive treatment for behavioral health issues compromises about 860 individuals yearly, which does not include those people who live elsewhere and come to Sitka for inpatient treatment.

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