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Breaking the Stigma of Mental IllnessĀ [Podcast]

Posted September 03, 2020 by Emily Hionides-Horner, MSW, LISW-S

Listen to this episode of the Healthy Vitals Podcast.

Emily Hionides-Horner discusses 7 ways to overcome mental health stigma.


Scott Webb (Host): Many of us don't seek the mental health assistance that we need due to real or perceived stigma. Joining me today to help us understand and overcome mental stigma is Emily Hionides-Horner. She's a Clinician and Social Worker at Summa Health. This is Healthy Vitals, a podcast from Summa Health. I'm Scott Webb. So Emily, thanks so much for joining me today. You know, we tend to not keep it to ourselves when we are physically injured. However, when we are struggling with internal pain, many of us don't share that with others. Is real or perceived stigma, really the cause of our silence?

Emily Hionides-Horner: I would say it can be one of the causes. And I would say that stigma is very real, unfortunately, but sometimes it is perceived. We obviously can't read each other's minds.

Host: Yeah, definitely that, and I think that that's really the trick, right. Is even if we just perceive the stigma, obviously that's going to be real for people. So let's just talk in general about mental stigma and what that means, where it comes from and how just generally people are processing that.

Emily Hionides-Horner: Absolutely. There's just a variety of places that stigma can come from. Some of it's just not knowing information for years. People were told that, you know, maybe it's just they're having like a little bit of a problem, but really they were having major anxiety, but there wasn't always a name. When we think about the way we diagnose things now, we can put a name to things. We can give you symptoms, but 50 years ago we didn't have the same knowledge that we have today. And so we have generations of people who really just don't have the knowledge. Sometimes it's also where we perhaps are treated differently and that can then have a lot of stigma as well. And sometimes when we say treated differently, also, perhaps someone just doesn't know what to say. And then there it is again, that perception as we discussed.

Host: Yeah. So it sounds like it's really about perhaps just educating people, right. That maybe some of that judgment or the stigma really comes from people just not being educated. And hopefully we're closer to that now than we were, as you say, 50 years ago, right?

Emily Hionides-Horner: Oh, absolutely. And I have hope for the future. I'd love to have my grandkids just say, Oh yeah, mom or grandma, you know, we're going to see our counselor today. And everyone's like, okay, just like you would say that if they're, you know, going to get their teeth cleaned or something, but today we still do have stigma unfortunately.

Host: Yeah, we do. And as you say, you know, down the road, we want to, you know, be able to be more accepting and more understanding just as if we were going. My son went to physical therapy today for his back just as easily as he would tell somebody he was doing that to say, I'm going to see my counselor. Right? So when we talk about mental stigma, I'm assuming there are some devastating and really long-term effects, right?

Emily Hionides-Horner: One of the biggest ones is that people don't get the help they need and that people can feel like perhaps they shouldn't get it. Perhaps they, you know, have like unhelpful thoughts such as I should be able to do this on my own. It shows I'm weak, if I have to go get help. And then long-term, that means people who have illnesses that are very easy to treat, aren't getting the treatment that they need.

Host: Yeah. And I think that that's the, the, the real difficulty is that we know there are so many people out there who would benefit from treatment from assistance, but it's the getting them to be more proactive, to maybe push past the stigma. So let's talk about the seven ways to overcome mental stigma. And I don't know if you want to go through them all individually or kind of a broad look at this, but let's go through the seven ways.

Emily Hionides-Horner: Well, actually the first one is when we just started, started talking about, which is just getting treatment. If you break your leg, most of us don't keep walking on a broken leg. We go in and we get a cast. And then we perhaps go to a specialist after that for, as you said, physical therapy, but with mental health issues, often people don't get the help that they need. And then moving into after that would be not buying into the stigma, just meaning that sometimes we personalize it. Sometimes we believe it's about what it says about us as a person versus at the other person's issues. And so if we can start to say, this is not about us, if someone else has perceptions that are unhelpful about mental health, kind of like that's on them, let me work on me. And part of that, it would be to educate ourselves. I really encourage folks go on reputable sites. Don't just read someone's blog.

There's a lot of really good information out there, but then there's also information that's not so helpful. So educate yourself then in that process, educate others. There's a lot of really great now educational, even like YouTube videos that you can just sit down for five minutes and watch they have ones for kids, ones for adults, but since I specialize with folks with PTSD, the VA puts out a lot of really great videos on everything from meds to understanding what is PTSD. So there's just so much out there now. I think we also though need to be really careful about the way we speak about ourselves and mental health as well as about others sometimes, going back to that personalization, we'll say things like I'm depressed versus I'm struggling with depression. And there's words are very powerful. And when we make something totally about ourselves, versus it being a piece of who we are, it's much harder to receive the treatment that we need. And also, what does it say for others, if the words that we use are harmful versus helpful. And then there's also a lot of really good support groups out there.

There have been a lot of online support groups. There's ones in person. I just encourage folks. It's really hard when you think you're alone. And so it's so helpful when you realize I'm not alone. I'm not the only one out there. I'm not quote unquote crazy. I'm actually, this is just my brain's reaction. And so get the help you need. I encourage folks to call ask before you show up at a meeting. One of the great community resources that we have is NAMI, which is the National Alliance on Mental Illness. And they have one in every single County, which is absolutely wonderful. And they're there to help both the families and the consumers. And they also do a lot of advocacy. So I really encourage folks get active, get help, ask questions. And this is about really empowering yourself versus hiding in shame. The more that we can shine a light on issues like this, the more people are going to realize that it's very treatable. There's nothing wrong with the person. And then we can take away that shame. And when we can take away that shame, then that means we can speak out and people can get the help they need.

Host: That's really great. And that's ultimately the goal, right, is we want people to get the help they need. And you mentioned it that you specialize in PTSD. And so maybe you can talk just a little bit about your work with trauma patients

Emily Hionides-Horner: Or for Summa out of the traumatic stress center. And I run groups there and then I also do individual therapy. And so first of all, when I run the groups, I think it's just so helpful. There's power in a group. People realize they're not alone. They learn skills. They learn how to handle things like nightmares, triggers, what to do when they're depressed and feel like they can't get out of bed, what to do when they're so anxious that they feel like they can't breathe. So we teach them all these skills just to help manage life. And then from there we do individual therapy. And that means where we talk about the person's trauma. And there is a lot of stigma. I think when people think about trauma, sometimes people have the view that, you know, if you didn't go to war, if you didn't, you know, if someone didn't die next to you, you didn't have a trauma, but actually trauma can be someone breaking into your house. It can be a severe car accident. It can be so many different things. And so the more that going back to that, educating the more that we can educate people, I think the more that we're going to see the stigma slowly over time.

Host: Yeah, I hope so. And as we get close to wrapping up here, Emily, what advice do you have for people during the pandemic who may be experiencing loneliness, anxiety, or hopelessness, you know, due to the virus, what can we tell them?

Emily Hionides-Horner: I'm glad you asked. The first thing I always tell folks is stay connected as much as possible. And I know it's not the same to look at someone's image on the computer, as it is to look at their face and give them a big hug, but stay connected as much as possible. We do, we still are offering face-to-face therapy at Summa. So I encourage folks view this as a doctor's appointment, come in and get help. I encourage folks to do a lot of things as much like the active, if you're just sitting on the couch and watching TV, there's a higher probability you're going to get more and more depressed. Sit outside, go for a walk, walks are not canceled. You know, take your dog for a walk, go out there with your kids, walk and play in the backyard. Sit outside and read a book. Maybe have lunch outside if you're saying, you know, I, I can't go out. I have to stay home, sit on your porch. Open windows, reach out for help. So I've really seen an increase in the amount of people coming in for treatment, which is, I'm so glad for that, because during this time, I'm glad that there's providers and that we're still out there, we're on the front lines with folks. Mental health, the needs don't go away just because we're in a pandemic and they actually increase.

Host: Yeah. I think that, that's what we're hearing and what we're learning is that mental health and those types of issues, and perhaps the stigma is on the rise during the pandemic. And you've given folks today a lot of great suggestions to overcome it. But as you say that the important things are, you know, educating ourselves and seeking help when we need it. Right?

Emily Hionides-Horner: Absolutely. Absolutely.

Host: So great, Emily, thanks for joining me today. Thank you for your time, your expertise and your compassion and you stay well.

Emily Hionides-Horner: Thank you, you as well.

Host: For more information or to book an appointment, visit And if you found this podcast helpful and informative, please share it on your social channels and check out the entire podcast library for topics of interest to you. This is Healthy Vitals of podcasts from Summa Health. I'm Scott Webb, stay well. And we'll talk again next time.

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