Improve Your Health

Overcoming Mental Health Stigmas

About The Author

Mary Beth Alvarez, MD

Assistant Professor, Internal Medicine-Psychiatry

Medical College of Wisconsin

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Every year, one in five Americans experiences a mental health issue. Even though many people are affected by these conditions, talking about them remains somewhat taboo.

Partly to blame are the many misconceptions that surround mental illness. For instance, how often have you heard someone suggest a person should just snap out of their depression? This goes hand-in-hand with another common misconception that depression and anxiety are not “real” illnesses. The truth is these are very real conditions that require an integrated treatment approach for a full recovery.

So what factors lead to mental illness? Every person’s situation is different. Genetics, how you were raised, being exposed to a traumatic event or experiencing an extreme illness or injury may lead to developing mental illness. Additionally, lifestyle factors, such as nutrition, sleep habits and substance abuse, can play a role.

While some things you can’t control – genetics, traumatic events, etc. – there are steps you can take to help improve your mental health:

  • Eat a healthy and balanced diet and limit processed foods and excess calories.
  • Try to work in 30 minutes of physical activity every day. Remember – it doesn’t have to be all at once – three 10-minute sessions per day works just as well.
  • Avoid drinking, smoking and drug abuse.
  • Consider getting active in a faith community to improve spiritual health.
  • Strengthen your social connections, and work on building your relationships with family and friends.

If you or someone you love needs help for depression or anxiety, reach out to your primary care physician. He or she can direct you to a therapist, psychologist or psychiatrist for further care, if needed.

At Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin health network, we believe an integrated treatment approach is necessary because mental and physical health issues are often connected. In fact, some medical conditions can cause an increased risk of mental illness. For example, inflammatory states may cause depression and psychosis. On the flip side, depression may increase risk of dying from heart disease or cancer. It’s important to remember the brain is not separate from the body so it’s important to treat the entire person.

To find a primary care physician near you, reach out to your health insurance provider.

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