NHS health services hosted its third annual Community Health Fair, last Thursday, at its behavioral health facility on Chester Pike in Sharon Hill. The community-wide fair comes just in time for Mental Illness Awareness Week and National Depression Screening Day, both in October.
Under a large tent in the parking lot of the facility gathered hundreds of members from the public collecting information from 60 other health organizations offering services for all areas of physical and mental wellness. Attendees were also treated to yoga and back massage sessions.
“We recognize the importance of integrated care such as physical and mental health care,” said William diGeorge, executive director of NHS Delaware County.
The feel-good and educational vibes of the fair were an attempt to stomp out the pervasive stigma that causes many Americans to opt out of seeking necessary mental health treatment.
“Mental illness is highly under-reported because there is a lot of stigma into seeking health resources,” said Dr, Erica Wilkins, a licensed marriage and family therapist and assistant clinical professor at Drexel University College of Nursing and Health Professions. “People think they are weak for seeking out treatment, but reaching out is actually a sign of strength.”
Wilkins suggests mental health and physical health should be treated like one in the same, as in “yearly check-ups, much like physicals and dental check-ups.”
The constant overlooking of the existence of mental health issues among Americans doesn’t negate the looming reality that “one in five Americans” battle with mental health issues, according to diGeorge. Furthermore, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), the figures amount to approximately 43 million adult Americans living with mental illnesses, many of which are diagnosable.
Although there has always been a generational stigma against mental illnesses, Wilkins says the stigma is lifting among the current Millennial generation.
“Millennials (are more receptive) than Baby Boomers to mental illness, it’s more of a cultural shift,” the therapist said.
Wilkins said for Millennials, there has a been a plethora of public service announcements and other sources for mental health awareness. However, the biggest factor in putting the stigma to rest, according to Wilkins, is popular culture or celebrities being open about their own struggles with mental illness.
According to Wilkins, American young adults have watched pop sensation Britney Spears endure a mental breakdown when she shaved her head and charged paparazzi with an umbrella. Other instances include R&B singer Fantasia publically revealing a suicide attempt and most recently, rapper Kid Cudi confessed to having bouts of poor mental health and made the conscious decision to seek treatment.
Kid Cudi’s choice has received general support from the public and even prompted more discussions on mental health awareness.
“When people see that they become inspired,” Wilkins said.