‘Mental health is part of health:’ Doctors, activists addressing stigmas of mental illness

LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) – Conversations about mental health have become a topic of conversation lately. From talking points in political campaigns, to national attention in the wake of country music star Naomi Judd’s death.

May is also Mental Health Awareness Month, and activists are using this time to address the stigma and also reach people who need help.

They said mental health knows no age, gender, or economic background, and can impact anyone and even develop at any age in life.

The pandemic certainly played a role with a 20% jump in Americans with depression compared to just a year ago, and more cases among children are being reported.

“Mental health is part of health. It’s an illness, it’s a disease that needs to be treated,” said Dr. Ravi Johar, the chief medical officer with United Healthcare.

It’s a condition that impacts the lives of millions of Americans, just like diabetes or a heart condition. Activists said the stigma behind mental health is keeping people from seeking treatment.

“I think there’s a lot of recognition now with something called ‘the whole person.’ Which is that mental health effects your physical health, and physical health effects your mental health. You can’t separate them,” Dr. Johar said.

Dr. Johar said there are no age limits for depression or mental health. It can develop early in life or much later. In Kentucky, lawmakers just addressed mental health in schools by passing legislation centered around student mental health. House Bill 44 allows local school districts to add provisions for mental and behavioral health status when developing attendance policies.

It’s a topic that has garnered national attention, most recently with Naomi Judd, and her daughter Ashley opened up Thursday about her mother’s struggles. She confirmed the singer died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. At the time of her death, Judd’s family said she “lost her battle with mental health.”

“I think it took it out of the stigma. It’s addressing a topic that everyone knows exists, but doesn’t want to deal with,” Dr. Johar said. “And I think being able to come out and say, ‘hey, she was struggling with some things, and tried to get the help she needed,’ I think that is an eye opener for people, that no matter how successful you are, no matter how fantastic your life appears to others, there are people that may have issues. It’s okay to have issues. You just need to get help with those issues.”

Dr. Johar said in the last few years, he can tell a noticeable increase in people talking more about mental health. However, United Healthcare said more than half of people with mental illness do not seek help out of fear of embarrassment or even losing their job.

Mental Health America ranks Kentucky as the 19th best state in the nation when it comes to access to care.

If you need someone to talk to, a trained counselor is a phone call away. You can call 1-800-662-HELP.

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