STIGMATIZED SECRETS: UNTOLD MYSTERIES OF THE MIND SHINES LIGHT ON STRUGGLES SURROUNDING MENTAL ILLNESS
Written By: Ryan Starr, Third-Year Student Pharmacist
Think back to the last time that you exercised vigorously and pulled a muscle or sprained your ankle. Did you ask a friend for Advil or Tylenol? Did your friend question why you needed the medication, or did they simply reach into their bag, pull out two bottles, and ask which one you preferred? Now, envision the last time that you couldn’t fall asleep until four hours after your bedtime because of an important meeting, presentation, or interview coming up the next morning. Your heart was racing, your mind was unreasonably alert for 3:00 a.m., and you may have started questioning if you’d ever fall asleep ever again. Did you discuss these psychiatric manifestations of anxiety with your coworkers the next day?
Breaking the Stigma
On April 4, the School of Pharmacy’s College of Psychiatric and Neurologic Pharmacists (CPNP) student chapter co-hosted a student panel with the Pediatric Pharmacy Association (PPAG) student chapter at which five student pharmacists discussed their personal experiences with the stigma associated with mental illness.
“Stigmatized Secrets: Untold Mysteries of the Mind” successfully initiated an open discourse among our peers at the School of Pharmacy regarding mental health concerns. CPNP and PPAG believe that, as future health care professionals, it is our responsibility to initiate discussion about challenging psychiatric and neurologic health issues in our personal and professional lives. Students, faculty, and patients alike should never fear that their thoughts and emotions will be disregarded or stigmatized for challenging the status quo.
During the discussion, student panelists shared their experiences with mental health in a lecture hall filled to capacity with fellow students and faculty, who inquired about the challenges associated with a mental health diagnosis, seeking pharmacological treatment, and explaining their conditions to family and friends. The discussion was led by psychiatrist Sarah Edwards, DO, assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, who provided expert insight on the prevalence, diagnosis, and treatment of a mental health diagnosis.
Imparting Valuable Lessons
CPNP and PPAG hoped that every attendee who participated in the discussion would understand that faculty and students should be able to speak about mental health without fear of being labeled, ostracized, or stigmatized for seeking help. Panelists answered student and faculty questions about their mental health without reservation in an effort to help attendees feel more empowered to speak freely with their friends and family about these issues. Also resonating throughout the session was the idea that the best health care practitioners should be able to integrate their clinical expertise with a genuine understanding of their patients — whether patients seek aid for a sprained ankle, depression, or ADHD, they should feel that their health concerns are welcomed, understood, and accepted.
By bringing mental health issues into the forefront of student and faculty discussion, we hope that our panelists have inspired individuals across the School of Pharmacy to more openly integrate support and acceptance of those individuals living with mental health disorders into their daily lives. By providing personal insight from individuals who have experienced the clinical challenges for which we exhaustively study, we also hope to more effectively incorporate aspects of culturally competent communication into daily practice. Lastly, by improving the openness of communication and working to destigmatize the discussion of these prevalent issues, we hope our community members will emulate these values in their interdisciplinary practice settings. When physicians, pharmacists, social workers, lawyers, nurses, and all members of the patient care team truly recognize the prevalence of mental health stigma and work together to eliminate it from practice, these stigmatized secrets will no longer be imprisoned as untold mysteries of the mind.