There are no canes, casts or oxygen masks. There isn’t a limp or crutches. You can’t see it and sometimes you aren’t even aware of another person’s suffering, but there is plenty of pain in mental illness.

Mental illness is common in the United States, and 1-in-4 people will have a diagnosable mental illness in their lifetime. Most will not seek treatment for fear of judgement, rejection and lack of information about treatments. The inconspicuousness of a mental illness makes it easy to disregard. Misunderstandings about mental illness leave those suffering with a stigma attached to them in the form of discrimination.

Breaking down the issue

If you’re struggling with mental illness, please reach out and get help. You are not alone. Though invisible, mental illness is real, and it can be debilitating. It’s also treatable. Treatment not only reduces pain, but it can lead to healing and recovery. We can all help reduce the suffering by stepping forward with compassion and tolerance.

We must start talking about mental health issues more openly and in personal ways that raise awareness and foster advocacy. Media feeds a stereotype that scapegoats people with mental illness as disproportionately dangerous to others. This causes those who are living with mental health challenges to be wary of sharing their struggles, wisdom and perspective.

Finding ways to help

How can you help? Talking to those who are affected, or talking to others about how mental illness has affected you can have a big impact on reducing the stigma and prejudice. Educate yourself and others around you about the effects of mental illness. Advocate for mental health reform, and encourage equality and compassion for others.

“Treatment not only reduces pain, but it can lead to healing and recovery.”

How can counselors help address stigma? Mental health counselors are uniquely qualified to meet the challenges of treating mental illnesses. They have a foundation of skills that are distinct from other behavioral health disciplines in that their training addresses the whole person in wellness and prevention. They understand that mental health issues are not just behavioral or emotional, but physical too. Everything from what we eat to where we live affects our mental well-being. Mental health counselors are quickly becoming a part of primary health care. Soon, when you go to the doctor for a diabetes checkup, you will also meet with a therapist to discuss how your lifestyle may impact your illness.

Relying on qualified professionals

Clinical mental health counselors can offer a full range of services, including: assessment and diagnosis; psychotherapy; treatment planning and utilization review; brief and solution-focused therapy; alcoholism and substance abuse treatment; psychoeducational and prevention programs; and crisis management.

Graduate education and clinical training prepare clinical mental health counselors to provide a full range of services for individuals, couples, families, adolescents and children. The core areas of mental health education programs include diagnosis and psychopathology; psychotherapy; psychological testing and assessment; professional orientation; group counseling; human growth and development; and counseling theory. Licensure requirements for clinical mental health counselors are equivalent to those for clinical social workers and marriage and family therapists, which are two other disciplines that require a master's degree for independent status.

Note that a licensed clinical mental health counselor has met or exceeded the following professional qualifications. First, they have earned a master's degree in counseling or a closely related mental health discipline. Second, they have a minimum of two years of post-master's clinical work under the supervision of a licensed or certified mental health professional. Finally, they have passed a state-developed or national licensure/certification examination.

The stigma around mental illness will only go away with your help. So, let’s keep talking about it — to mental health professionals, to friends and family members, and to those working to regain mental health. You are not alone in your suffering and there are mental health counselors waiting to talk to you and help.