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Sharing Experience With Mental Illness Helps Squash Stigma

January 24, 2023

Lived experience, even with depression or other mental health conditions, is a “super power” one clinician says connects people and helps dispel the stigma that keeps too many people quiet about their emotions.

Ahmed Hankir, MD, an academic and clinical psychiatrist in London, calls on colleagues at the Institute of Living, part of the Hartford HealthCare Behavioral Health Network, to step beyond fear and shame to openly share any mental health struggles and encourage others to do the same.

“Many mental illnesses are preventable. Now is not the time to be quiet. We must be disruptive,” says Dr. Hankir as part of his Grand Rounds presentation entitled “Experts by Professional Experience – An Innovative Intervention to Reduce Mental Health Stigma.”

Alarming statistics

Although studies indicate about half of healthcare workers meet the criteria for conditions such as depression, anxiety, problem drinking and PTSD, he says stigma keeps them from talking about it. About 400 American doctors commit suicide each year.

“In a study of 500 women doctors, the majority were reluctant to seek professional help because they fear stigmatization,” Dr. Hankir explains, adding that the numbers increase for people of color.

Calling stigma and the “culture of shame” a “formidable barrier to healthcare,” suffering in silence is not the answer, he says.

“Stigma is killing people. We must do everything in our collective power to challenge it wherever we see it,” he says.

Wounded healer

A Lebanese immigrant who says he considered suicide when he feared a bombing in his hometown had killed his family, Dr. Hankir says sharing his story encourages others to be open about their mental health struggles.

Together, he urges healthcare workers to embrace the concept of a “wounded healer,” the name given an educational and social project he says helps deconstruct and challenge the mental health stigma. The innovative approach blends the performing arts and storytelling to encourage people to seek the help they need.

“The emphasis is on recovery and showing people that recovery is possible,” he says.

To date, the program has been presented to more than 100,000 people in more than 20 countries. Along the way, Dr. Hankir has collected data showing that 91% of people said knowing a doctor like himself successfully faced mental illness and thrived again would encourage them to seek help.

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The Behavioral Health Network provides the full continuum of both mental health and substance abuse recovery services, personalized to the needs of every client and integrated with their primary care health needs.

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