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May is Mental Health Awareness Month

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Photo credit Simon Maage

By: Dr. W. Scott West, Chief Medical Officer, Nashville Neurocare Therapy

Did you know that “nearly 450 million people worldwide are currently living with a mental illness, yet nearly two-thirds of people with a known mental illness never seek treatment”? Nobody deserves to struggle with a mental illness on their own. However, asking for help or knowing where to go for help can feel terribly overwhelming.

Our culture, unfortunately, often only exacerbates these challenges. Though we’ve taken great strides in destigmatizing mental health in recent years, that doesn’t mean there aren’t still ways that the media and our friends and families might exacerbate harmful myths about what it means to live with a mental illness.

In the spirit of mental health awareness, here are some tangible ways that you can help to break down the stigma around mental health in your community.

  1. Talk freely about mental health.

When we dare to be vulnerable and share our own experiences, we give other people permission to be vulnerable too. While everything in our lizard brains that wires us for survival might tell us to avoid being vulnerable, a German study on the power of vulnerability shows that “vulnerability feels like weakness when it’s experienced on the inside, but looks like courage when it’s viewed from the outside. “If you feel comfortable and safe talking about your own journey with mental health, it could make a big difference for someone else. When we open up, we have the power to help others feel less alone and more feel comfortable seeking help.

  1. Be intentional with your words.

“You’re crazy!”

“That’s so bipolar.”

“I’m so OCD.”

These phrases might seem innocuous, but the truth is our language makes a big impact. According to Dr. Hiba Siddiqui, a Senior Psycho-Oncologist at Max Healthcare, “our word choices contribute to social stigmas that can further marginalize individuals of all backgrounds living with a variety of conditions, illnesses and disabilities.” Try to refrain from using real mental health conditions as casual adjectives and hold your friends and family accountable too. While most likely unintentional, doing so can both minimize the reality of these conditions and perpetuate the stigmas around them.

  1. Remember: Mental illness is a physical illness.

Did you know that “the idea that insanity was fundamentally different from other illnesses, that it was a disease of the mind rather than the body, only developed towards the end of the 18th century”? The truth is, it’s not minds or bodies that get sick. It’s people. No matter what it is, every illness affects both the mind and body. For instance, “pain, the most characteristic feature of so-called bodily illness, is a purely psychological phenomenon, and the first manifestation of most infections, from influenza to plague, is also a subjective change — a vague general malaise.” Our body can’t get sick without our mind being impacted, and our brain can’t get ill without the rest of our body feeling the results.

Of course, “simply seeking an axiom of “mental illness is like any other medical illness” is at best simplifying a complex human problem and at worst doing a major disservice to patients, their families and the mental health field.” Rather than being just like a physical illness, it might be more appropriate to posit that mental illnesses deserve the same attention, respect, and standard of care as physical illnesses. Just like we take broken bones and flu seriously, our mental health deserves the same care and attention.

  1. Extend compassion for those with mental illness— including ourselves.

Regardless of the state of our mental health, every one of us is human and deserves love and compassion. Contrary to some dominant narratives, mental illness struggles do not indicate a lack of character, willpower, or discipline. It does not make someone less disciplined, less well-intentioned, or less worthy. Practice extending compassion and correcting these faulty stereotypes when they come up.

When we live in a society that stigmatizes mental illness, it’s easy to internalize those perceptions and perpetuate self-shame. While rewiring our mindset around mental illness won’t change overnight, there are steps you can take to offer yourself self-compassion.

Rachel Otis, a somatic therapist, recommends challenging our critical inner voice with affirmations. As mentioned before, language is powerful. A 2015 study supports this, concluding that positive self-affirmations active brain systems associated with reward and measured behavior change. While it might feel awkward at first, consistently telling yourself positive affirmations can help challenge and change negative thoughts. Of course, affirmations are not a magical, end-all-be-all solution for banishing self-shame, but they could be a productive place to start.

  1. Be Honest About Treatment

Asking for help with your mental health can feel intimidating. You might not know where to start or be afraid to tell anyone you’re struggling. When we are willing to share what has been working in our own treatment journeys, we can help others feel more comfortable seeking help and even give suggestions they might not have thought of already. The more we can normalize getting help— the way going to the dentist for a sore tooth or seeing a doctor for a rash is normalized— the more mentally healthy our community can become.

Not everyone’s path to treatment is the same. Some people find great relief from seeing a therapist, others with medication, others with both. For others still, talk therapy and medication don’t offer the relief they’re seeking.

At Nashville Neurocare Therapy, we specialize in an innovative treatment called “Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation therapy— TMS” for short. Don’t let the word “stimulation” scare you; this isn’t the same thing as electroconvulsive therapy, aka “shock therapy.” We use safe, comfortable, magnetic-pulse technology to gently stimulate the areas of your brain that manage mood and behavior. In depressed brains, these areas are often under-active. Stimulating them with this innovative technology helps give them the boost they need to work to their full potential and help you manage your moods. As you continue to receive TMS Therapy, your brain builds and strengthens these neural pathways. Over time, your brain will learn to utilize these systems more effectively, leading to lasting change and lasting relief.

Though it is a lesser-known therapy, most private and public health insurances cover TMS Therapy, and the American Psychiatric Association lists TMS Therapy as an option when other treatments do not work, such as failed antidepressants.

If you aren’t finding relief from your depression through talk therapy or medication alone, talk to your doctor about TMS Therapy. Treatment for depression is not one size fits all, and there is hope for you. If you’d like to learn more about TMS Therapy and how it could help you or somebody you love, feel free to request a consultation with our office. We’d love to see if TMS Therapy is a good fit for your path to healing.

About the Author: Dr. W. Scott West


Nationally recognized, board-certified psychiatrist, Dr. W. Scott West, blazed the trail for TMS therapy in Tennessee as the first physician to offer this advanced technology in 2010. With 30+ years experience in clinical depression, Dr. West leads the Nashville Neurocare team.

  • Board Certified Psychiatrist
  • Specialty: Certified TMS Psychiatrist since 2010
  • Diplomate: The American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology
  • Distinguished Fellow: American Psychiatric Association
  • Residency: Vanderbilt University, Hospital Department of Psychiatry
  • Medical School: University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Center for the Health Sciences
  • Hospital Affiliations: Vanderbilt University Hospital, St. Thomas Hospital
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