Stigma Remains About Asking for Mental Health Help

Feb 2013

When a person is struggling with suicidal tendencies or coping with depression, often the best solution is to seek help from a therapist or a mental health professional. A mental health professional can recognize signs of suicide, take immediate steps to prevent suicide from occurring, and work to create a long-term treatment plan that will help a suicidal person to find another solution.

Unfortunately, in many cases, stigma still remains about asking for help from a therapist or from a mental health professional. Attorney Skip Simpson, who represents families in suicide malpractice lawsuits, believes that this ongoing reluctance among many to get the mental help they need is one of the leading causes of suicide in the United States.

High Suicide Rates Caused by Reluctance to Seek Help

To understand the impact that a reluctance to seek mental help can have, you need only look to the suicide rate in Wyoming. As the Star Tribune’s online website reported, Wyoming has the highest suicide rate in the United States. The state’s suicide ranking has remained in the top five per capita for years, and many of the suicides in the state involve men 50 or older. Many of the suicides also involve death by gunshot wound.

According to the Star Tribune, suicide experts and prevention specialists have been unable to identify the exact reason for such a high suicide rate. However, a therapist at Yellowstone Behavioral Health Center in Cody told the Star Tribune that there were likely three contributing factors to the high suicide rate: a cowboy culture, a rugged individualist mentality, and a stigma about accepting any type of mental health treatment.

While a rural lifestyle is also cited as a strong factor for higher suicide rates, it is the limited access to treatment in these rural areas that likely contributes to the higher rate of suicide. The senior director of research for the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention indicated, for example, that rural areas create a sense of isolation, and that there is typically little access to mental health professionals in many small rural communities.

Furthermore, not only is there limited treatment available, but the director also suggested that there is a culture of shame surrounding seeking treatment. As such, people in these small rural communities may be more resistant to acknowledge that they need help or may be more resistant to acknowledge going into mental health treatment.

To help curb the high suicide rates, Wyoming is trying new methods, including providing a psychological autopsy to family members of suicide victims in order to try to better understand the causes of suicide. However, as long as the cultural stigma about getting mental help remains, and as long as people remain reluctant to seek the assistance of a qualified therapist, it is likely that the state will face grave difficulties in significantly reducing the suicide rate.

The statistics from Wyoming, as well as the opinions from the experts show just how important it is to get treatment and just what an essential role therapists and mental health professionals play in helping people to avoid suicide and find positive alternatives.  Getting folks to proper care is important but making sure the clinician is competent to properly perform a systematic suicide assessment and manage the patient is equally important. In a recent publication “Preventing Suicide through Improved Training in Suicide risk Assessment and Care: An American Association of Suicidology Task Force Report Addressing Serious Gaps in U.S. Mental Health Training,” co-authored by Skip Simpson and top national suicidologist details the lack of competence in suicide issues by many clinicians.

If you lost a loved  one to suicide, contact the Dallas Law Offices of Skip Simpson, dedicated to holding mental health counselors accountable. Call  214-618-8222.

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