Many attitudes have changed since the Mental Health Act passed nearly a decade ago, but persistent social stigmas still prevent many from seeking help, county officials said Tuesday.
“Unfortunately, many people still don’t seek help even when they have health care that covers those services,” said Scott De Moss, Merced County’s acting mental health director.
Efforts to reduce and eventually eliminate barriers created by social pressures were the topic of a community discussion Tuesday led by the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Merced County.
The event at the Hoffmeister Center brought together social service groups, mental health professionals, and business and community leaders to discuss overcoming mental health challenges. More than 170 people attended, organizers said.
“I think we’ve seen some really positive changes in the community from (the Mental Health Act) funds that give us the opportunity to create programs designed for local people,” said Marilyn Mochel, a NAMI spokeswoman.
Mochel said many people fail to understand the link between mental health and physical health, which she described as “really interwoven.”
“You can’t have real health without both,” she said.
“Historically, I think people with mental illnesses have been kept isolated, and the severely mentally ill were kept in places and treated in ways that others certainly didn’t want to experience or to be treated the same way,” Mochel said. “People are still concerned about how they’ll be treated today because we don’t talk about mental illness enough.”
Mochel said one in four adults experience mental illness each year, as do one in five children.
Frequently disorders such as depression and anxiety stem from common struggles including unemployment, foreclosure, physical disabilities and stress. The difference between coping and sliding into mental illness can be difficult for people to acknowledge, Mochel said.
For more information about mental health and related services, contact NAMI of Merced County at (209) 381-6844.