Make Talking to a Therapist as Easy as Tying a Shoe

Mental health: a conversation that truly only comes to the forefront when something tragic occurs, like a school shooting. However, conversations about mental health should be as common and as easy to discuss as working out. Just like you exercise to keep your heart healthy, your brain is as vital an organ as your heart and mental health should be as routine as going for a run.

The lack of mental health education and financial support is widespread beyond the borders of the United States. A recently released report from the Lancet Commission on Global Mental Health noted the “pitifully small” levels of support for research and patient care. The findings are shocking – for every year of healthy life lost due to mental illness, there was 85 cents provided in assistance; for HIV/AIDS there was $144 for every year of healthy life lost. The reason for the lack of support? One of the most apparent obstacles to financial support is the stigma surrounding mental health.

Gabrielle Magid, a UF alumnus, started her nonprofit Stronger Than Stigma while at UF Hillel to change the campus culture surrounding mental health issues. After being denied the ability to operate as a student-run organization on campus, Gabrielle recruited two of her friends from her birthright trip to start her nonprofit and register as a 501c3. Gabrielle wanted to “think big, rather than small” realizing that mental health is not a gator specific problem, it’s an everybody problem.

Mental health issues span all religions, cultures, genders, and generations.

Although stereotyped as neurotic, there is no data that supports that overall, Jews suffer from mental illness at higher raters than other populations. Jews do suffer from certain mental illnesses at higher rates, including depression, dysthymia, schizophrenia, and simple phobia, but suffer from lower rates of other illnesses, such as alcoholism. Further, a genetic variation in Ashkenazi Jews can increase their risk of developing schizophrenia and researches found that communities that suffered from traumatic experiences (i.e. the Holocaust) can have genetic changes which are passed down through generations.

Gabrielle believes her views of acceptance stem from growing up in a Jewish community where we are taught to accept not only other’s flaws but our own as well. There is never the question of have you prayed enough or do you believe enough. A 2012 study of older New Yorkers found that Jews were more open to psychotherapy than non-Jewish whites and African Americans, were more tolerant of the stigmas surrounding therapy, and were more open to discussing emotions. However, the Torah and rabbinic teachings have stigmatized mental health and used mental illness as a punishment for sinning, which led to religious Jews to believe that if one suffers from a mental illness, they are a sinner. Organizations within the Jewish community now focus on mental health issues and destigmatizing mental illnesses by offering phone meetings, educational programs, and support groups, and suicide prevention services.

Stigmas surrounding mental health are most prevalent in Hispanic and African American communities. 20% of African American adults are more likely to experience mental health issues than white adults. Over 2% more African American teens are likely to attempt suicide than white teenagers (8.3% vs. 6.2%). The statistics only worsen: 40% of white Americans with mental health issues seek professional help. Only 25% African Americans seek professional help due to stigma, distrust, and socioeconomic factors.

Within the African American race and culture, the men are particularly concerned about stigma. However, this translates across races and cultures; in a society that stresses “men don’t cry” and “boys are tough, they just need to rub dirt on it,” men are less likely to ask for help or to discuss mental health issues. Because of this, 3.53 times more men die by suicide than women.

This data continues to support the idea that men don’t need help when discussing suicide attempts; females reported a suicide attempt 1.2 times as often as males. As a society, we need to change the stigma that emotions are gendered.

In terms of generation, the age group of 85+ has the second highest rate of suicide. However, according to Gabrielle, they’re the reason the stigma surrounding mental health exists. The Baby Boomers don’t acknowledge mental health because it can’t be smelled, tasted, or touched, so it’s not real. Our parents, understand that mental illness exists, but they’re embarrassed by it and needing help, so they don’t discuss it. Millennials, the world’s favorite generation, are the ones that use social media and communication to destigmatize and lead the way in breaking down the stigma surrounding mental health. 75% of millennials say they are open to discussing mental health topics and more than 70% of them would be comfortable seeking help.

Gabrielle didn’t realize she had a mental health issue until she got to campus and started studying for midterms. After seeing her stress start to truly affect her everyday life, a friend suggested she go to the Disability Resource Center. She found comfort in support groups; she learned that she was not alone and not the only one struggling. She also found healing in being the support system for someone else, “it’s underrated how much giving help helps you through something.”

Her ability to manage her anxiety has only gotten easier with running Stronger Than Stigma, a “for us, by us” organization dedicated to mental health advocacy for millennials. Their goal is to create a support system of people who understand the struggle of mental illnesses. Her network of support has only grown through this non-profit as she gets to meet people who are as passionate as she is about mental health advocacy.

Another one of her coping mechanisms – comedy. Gabrielle curated a comedy tour titled “Nobody’s Happy” that benefits Stronger Than Stigma. Comedy has always been a source of healing for Gabrielle and being a part of the comedy community and sharing the cathartic creative process of discussing hard issues humorously has been healing for her as well as the members in her comedy community. Gabrielle believes that comedy is something that has the power to bring people together. Using humor helps to normalize mental health issues and is a universal language anyone can relate to. The title of the comedy tour, Nobody’s Happy, is tongue in cheek – the point being nobody’s happy all the time and everyone struggles with something.

Magid’s advice for anyone that is questioning whether they have a mental health condition: if you’re questioning it, it doesn’t hurt to mention it. You are not different; you are not less than anyone else. It is extremely brave and courageous to be able to recognize something isn’t right and vocalize the issue outside of yourself. Don’t be afraid of a stigma.

If you would like to see Gabrielle’s comedy show, she will be at the Hippodrome in Gainesville on Monday October 22. Doors open at 7, the show starts at 7:30! Click here to purchase tickets.

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