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Changing Mental Health Stigmas

As we begin Mental Health Awareness Month this May, I hope that we, as a society, can break down many stigmas attached to having a mental health diagnosis. Our residents come with co-occurring issues, as they live with multiple diagnoses. Besides substance abuse disorders, we commonly accept residents who have anxiety, depression, and complex post-traumatic stress disorder. Many struggle so much with their mental health issues that their overall health begins to deteriorate because they have trouble sleeping, staying awake, or functioning in society. Yet, trying to get help for these unseen, yet equally debilitating diagnoses is not easy. In our society, we sometimes hear uninformed comments: “If they could just pick themselves up by their bootstraps, they would be fine. Why can’t they just get over what happened to them? It’s in the past . . . move on.”

Our residents do not choose to live with the daily challenges that their diagnoses bring them. They do not choose to have night terrors keeping them awake all hours of the night, nor do they choose to be triggered by things that remind them of the horrific abuse they endured while being exploited or trafficked. Yet, as a society it is sometimes easier to look at our residents, who have exited “the life”, yet endured so much trauma and understand why they would have the mental health diagnosis that they do, and we can be empathetic and caring toward them because they are working on healing. But what about the person who is standing on Kensington Avenue begging for food, drugs, or being prostituted? Can we look at them with that same compassion knowing that they continue to endure the pain and suffering of a life forced upon them by their abuser? Can we have the same empathy knowing that they are living in a hell dictated by someone who treated them as a commodity, not as a human being?

As a society, we continue to struggle with the reality of mental health and we need to talk about it more openly. At Dawn’s Place, we do talk about it openly and we are committed to providing our residents with resources, like sexual trauma recovery therapy, to aid their healing process. Therapy is not a four-letter word; it should be treated as something everyone does as easily as getting your physical each year. Imagine what the world would look like if all of us could process our challenges with a qualified therapist who helped us regulate our emotions and practice coping skills to manage our diagnoses in everyday life. I know that’s a world I would love to live in. Wouldn’t you?


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