Mental Health Awareness and What You Need to Know

Q & A with Deb Bard, Director of Programming at North Star Initiative

What is Mental Health?

Mental health is defined as a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.


What sort of mental health issues struggles do victims of trauma face?

The types of physical and psychological abuse human trafficking victims experience often lead to serious mental or emotional health consequences, including feelings of severe guilt, posttraumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, substance abuse (alcohol or narcotics), and eating disorders.


What are some obstacles our residents face when dealing with trauma?

A life of being sex trafficked involves losing self-identity, inability to trust, not feeling safe, feeling alone and not part of a community, constant anxiety, inability to make future oriented decisions, memories associated with traumatic experiences, low self-esteem and self-worth.  Transition from a life of fear to having hope for a better life is both exciting and terrifying. 


What are some of the signs and symptoms of someone who needs to take better care of his/her mental health?

Engaging in self-care to maintain a sense of well-being is an ongoing process.   Not feeling like yourself, feeling agitated, withdrawing from regular activities, friends, and loved ones, feeling hopeless, low energy, irregular sleep and appetite issues and finding that coping skills do not seem to be working as well are some general signs that something is wrong.  It is entirely appropriate that additional resources, such as engaging in counseling services, are considered to help address and alleviate these symptoms.   


How does the stigma of having mental health issues/disorders affect those in need of treatment?

According to the Mayo Clinic, stigma is when someone views you in a negative way because you have a distinguishing characteristic or personal trait that's thought to be, or actually is, a disadvantage (a negative stereotype). Unfortunately, negative attitudes and beliefs toward people who have a mental health condition are common.

Stigma can lead to discrimination. Discrimination may be obvious and direct, such as someone making a negative remark about your mental illness or your treatment. Or it may be unintentional or subtle, such as someone avoiding you because the person assumes you could be unstable, violent or dangerous due to your mental illness. You may even judge yourself.

Some of the harmful effects of stigma can include:

·         Reluctance to seek help or treatment

·         Lack of understanding by family, friends, co-workers or others

·         Fewer opportunities for work, school or social activities or trouble finding housing

·         Bullying, physical violence or harassment

·         Health insurance that doesn't adequately cover your mental illness treatment

·         The belief that you'll never succeed at certain challenges or that you can't improve your situation

Get treatment. You may be reluctant to admit you need treatment. Don't let the fear of being labeled with a mental illness prevent you from seeking help. Treatment can provide relief by identifying what's wrong and reducing symptoms that interfere with your work and personal life.

Don't let stigma create self-doubt and shame. Stigma doesn't just come from others. You may mistakenly believe that your condition is a sign of personal weakness or that you should be able to control it without help. Seeking counseling, educating yourself about your condition and connecting with others who have mental illness can help you gain self-esteem and overcome destructive self-judgment.

Don't isolate yourself. If you have a mental illness, you may be reluctant to tell anyone about it. Your family, friends, clergy or members of your community can offer you support if they know about your mental illness. Reach out to people you trust for the compassion, support and understanding you need.

Don't equate yourself with your illness. You are not an illness. So instead of saying "I'm bipolar," say "I have bipolar disorder." Instead of calling yourself "a schizophrenic," say "I have schizophrenia."

Join a support group. Some local and national groups, such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), offer local programs and internet resources that help reduce stigma by educating people who have mental illness, their families and the general public. Some state and federal agencies and programs, such as those that focus on vocational rehabilitation and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), offer support for people with mental illness.

Others' judgments almost always stem from a lack of understanding rather than information based on facts. Learning to accept your condition and recognize what you need to do to treat it, seeking support, and helping educate others can make a big difference.

North Star Initiative