Pictured: Lime green ribbons are used as a symbol to raise awareness for mental health.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and in a continued effort to break mental health stigmas, Liat Jarkon, D.O., director for the Center for Behavioral Health and assistant professor of family medicine at NYITCOM, appeared on Recovery Radio, the official podcast for Landmark Recovery Centers.
Jarkon, a strong advocate for expanding access to mental health care, notes that one of the biggest perpetuators of harmful stigmas is the insurance industry, a message she also shared in her Fortune op-ed published earlier this year.
The nation is experiencing a rise in suicides, an issue which Jarkon notes is part of a broader public health crisis exacerbated by the insurance industry. As she mentioned to podcast host Zach Crouch, a stark disparity exists between the coverage insurance companies provide for mental and physical health care. Patients are largely left to foot the bill for mental health treatment, making care inaccessible for many of those seeking help. However, when left untreated, mental illness can actually potentiate physical conditions like heart disease, resulting in even more expensive treatment needs.
“It’s all from the insurance perspective, trying to be cost-effective when the reality is that for example, recent studies showed $3.7 trillion are being spent annually to treat chronic diseases,” said Jarkon. “If the insurance industry invested more in mental health care and expanding it rather than making [access] impossible, it could actually slash spending on chronic diseases over time. More importantly, it could save people’s lives. This is not the time to be frugal, in my opinion.”
Jarkon reminded listeners that mental health conditions do not discriminate against background, affecting individuals from all walks of life, and those who struggle are not alone.
“The most important thing to do to reduce stigma is to have it be spoken about. You see the celebrities all of a sudden now coming out of the woodwork about depression and anxiety, and even the royal family members are coming out. That helps people realize there is no boundary—whether you’re a royal or a person of common descent, it affects everyone.”
Jarkon notes that the first step towards progress is to recognize the behavior is impacting normal function and to seek help. Once individuals do seek help, she encourages them to continue to do their part in reducing stigma by openly discussing their condition, which can help “normalize” mental health conditions and educate others.
“Don’t be afraid to share because people are going to judge you. If they do, they need to be educated.”
Mental Health Awareness Month has been observed in the United States since 1949, with Mental Health America organization (then known as the National Association for Mental Health), invoking the first recognition. In 2013, President Barack Obama awarded a presidential proclamation in observation of Mental Health Awareness Month.