Student Submission: No shame, No blame

UH Hilo Student Health and Wellness seeks to reduce stigma around mental health issues

Contributing Writer Tara West

Photographs submitted by UH Hilo Counseling Services

Imagine you are sick with the flu. You haven’t been able to get out of bed for a few days and feel awful. Your phone buzzes and it’s a text from your friend, asking you if you need anything. Your mom walks in the room and says, “I hope you feel better.”

Now picture yourself in the same situation, but in this case, you aren’t sick with the flu. You feel anxious and depressed. You can’t get out of bed because you feel awful inside. Your mom walks in the room saying, “Shake it off, stop feeling sad.”

Imagine what it would be like if people treated those who are suffering from a mental disorder the same as someone suffering from a physical disorder? There is no doubt that shame and negative stigmas have been associated with mental illness for centuries. Before the 1800s, people with psychological conditions were either thrown in jail or locked away in mental asylums, as a result of being incredibly misunderstood. While current beliefs have come a long way, there is still much that needs to be done to break the stigma that surrounds mental health.

Now you may be wondering what does stigma mean? Stigma is defined as a perceived negative attribute that causes someone to devalue or think less of a person. People with mental conditions feel shamed and belittled. For example, let’s say someone is diagnosed with diabetes. That person does not hesitate to seek professional medical help because diabetes is a physical disorder. Now picture someone who is feeling depressed. They feel scared to seek professional medical help because they are worried of what people might think of them.

People with mental conditions deal with the fear of social stigma on a day to day basis. So why don’t we treat depression the same as any other health condition, such as diabetes or heart problems? The brain is a physical organ of the body, so when something goes neurologically or neuro-chemically wrong with our brain, it is no different than any other physiological disorder. Perhaps it is because people personally identify with their brain, associating it with their character and identity, whereas we don’t have that same relationship with other internal organs.

Research has shown that men do not seek help to support their mental health at the same rate as women. In fact, only one in seven men seek help from a mental health professional compared with one in three women according to a 2004 study. These findings also suggest that multiple factors, including stigma around mental health, male gender-role socialization, and cultural and societal expectations make it more difficult for men to seek help than for women.

UH Hilo’s Student Health & Wellness Programs have put together a campaign, as well as a short film called “No Shame No Blame,” which aims to reduce the negative stigma associated with mental health. In Hawaii, males from the university and the community have communicated apprehension about seeking help to support their mental health. In fact, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander males comprise 31% of our student population, yet only approximately 4-6% of our clients in counseling services identify as Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander males.

The goal of this campaign is to encourage Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander men to feel comfortable and confident to reach out for support from a mental health professional and realize that asking for help is a sign of courage. By spreading awareness and knowledge, about mental health, No Shame No Blame aims to inspire students to prioritize taking care of their mental health and wellbeing.