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May is Mental Health Awareness Month

WILLSBORO - With May recognized as Mental Health Awareness Month, many in the field are working to remove longstanding stigmas about mental illness.

John Haverlick and Susan Britain, two social workers from the Smith House Health Care Center recently spoke about some of the common misconceptions of mental illness and the way it's treated.

There is still a pretty significant stigma about mental illness as opposed to physical illness," said Haverlick, explaining there is really a connection between the two. "Psychological stress creates so much stress in the body that it can lead to physical illness." Though the term "crazy" is often thrown around as a casual insult, it carries with it a negative connotation that is often applied to anyone seeking treatment. Still, the term rarely fits.

"Most of what we see is there are people who are having difficulty coping with whatever their life challenges are, whether it's kids, teenagers, or the elderly," Haverlick said.

It's finding healthier alternatives to those dysfunctional coping strategies that counseling is designed to help with.

"Not everybody has to come to a professional counselor," said Haverlick. "Friends and family can often replicate what a counselor is meant to do, but there is a certain expertise we have that is different, and certainly some would be better served by a professional."

Haverlick said that people who come to counseling often do so because they don't have people around them they feel comfortable going to. Still, many may be reluctant to contact a counselor because they feel doing so is a sign of weakness.

"People choosing to go to counseling is a sign of strength," Haverlick said; "that they realize they are not coping with things the way they want or need to."

Worries about cost may also deter people in need of services, but, as Haverlick explained, most health insurance plans cover mental health counseling with little out-of-pocket expense. Also, the Smith House offers flexibility for anyone whose finances may be an obstacle to getting needed care.

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