“Stigma is the biggest reason people do not seek treatment,” said Tim Tatum, director of behavioral health at Pine Ridge Center.
He said those seeking help from professionals may turn around and leave if they see someone they know.
“If I walk into Hiwassee Mental Health Center and see my neighbor I might be worried they are watching me,” Tatum said. “I have no idea what they are thinking.”
Members agreed part of breaking the stigma of mental health issues is getting information out to the public.
“People may not have specific education on what to look for,” Tatum said. “What does depression look like? What does drug abuse look like? What are the signs, symptoms and risk factors they need to be aware of?”
Tatum suggested providing breakout sessions for the public. Tanya Southerland, Going Respectfully Against Addictive Behaviors director, said she had never seen the service offered in Cleveland or Bradley County. Roxanne Wooten, Bradley County Health Department supervisor of community programs, suggested tying the mental health sessions in with physical fitness information.
Amber Lawson, Regional Intervention Program coordinator, said parents would be interested in the new spin on mental health.
“They are always interested in new topics in relation to parenting — especially if they believe it is going to help them with behavior,” Lawson said.
Teresa Shull, Hiwassee Mental Health children and youth clinical services coordinator, pointed out how many parents do not know the root cause of their children’s behaviors.
“We know one of the prime signs of depression in adolescents is not crying spells,” Shull said. “It is irritability and acting out in anger. People do not have that kind of education to know how to distinguish if their child is anxious or depressed.”
Continued Shull, “From my observances from working with children, anxiety underlies so much of any kind of symptoms or acting out in children. It could be a safety issue in the home. The more the child feels insecure, the more his anxiety goes up. Because he does not have the verbal skills to talk about it, there is going to be acting out.
“What I might see as a child being very anxious and worried about something, the parent thinks their child is being defiant and mean. By placing those kinds of labels on their child, then the child internalizes those assumptions and really begins behaving in a defiant manner.”
Shull said it is a vicious cycle. Lawson agreed and said parents often bring children into RIP under the misguided notion their children have mental health issues. She said the root of the problem can sometimes be attributed to environmental issues or poor nutrition.
Members unanimously agreed health fairs were not the best place to discuss a person’s personal issues. They felt people would be less likely to approach them for help where others could see.
They decided to pursue informational pamphlets and trinkets with contact information. These items could be passed out at fairs without drawing too much attention.
Southerland said she saw the members’ open discussion as a sign of good things to come.
“I think by being here at this table and having this discussion, we are all committed to moving forward,” Southerland said.
The health council has spent the past several months re-evaluating its mission. Members are currently trying to determine how best to meet the mental health needs of the community, especially those from a low income family.
The council meets the fourth Tuesday of every month at SkyRidge Medical Center.