April 28, 2016

Skeletons in the Closet: Three Health Conditions We Need to Talk About

Skeletons in the Closet: Three Health Conditions We Need to Talk About

Not every topic is considered “polite.” There are some subjects people are encouraged to avoid in general conversation, like religion and politics. But certain health conditions are too often swept under the rug to avoid perceived embarrassment, and as a result people are ashamed of their conditions instead of empowered to seek help and support. Here are three examples of common health issues that are being stigmatized to the point of hurting those who experience them. We need to talk openly and honestly about:

  1. Substance Abuse: Around the holidays especially, everyone seems to have a certain relative or friend who drinks a little too much at the family/office gathering. The behavior is usually laughed off with a joke or a shrug, “You know your uncle/Tina/the accounting department.” While it’s understandable to eat or drink a little more on a special occasion, this is quite different from a known pattern of behavior that is commonly understood to be unhealthy and destructive. Your friend or family member who has a substance abuse problem should know that they have your support to seek recovery; do not turn a blind eye.
  1. Unhealthy Weight Management: Although some would suggest that we talk about weight more than enough in America, we do so in a way that stigmatizes those who exist outside our rigid standards of beauty. While those any bigger than the thinnest sizes are encouraged to exercise, diet and even undergo surgery to achieve an “ideal” weight, research shows that those with slightly obese Body Mass Index (BMI) scores actually have the lowest mortality rates. Encouraging individuals who are not in the extreme range of thin or morbidly obese to take up dangerous diets wrecks their metabolism and self-esteem. Mange lifestyle first. Choosing a healthy lifestyle will bring other issues in line. “I’m concerned about your health; let’s walk together on Tuesday evenings,” is a much better way to approach weight-management than, “You have such a beautiful face. Someone would marry you if you’d only lose a little weight.”
  1. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): Often people who have trouble recovering from a traumatic experience are given an ambiguous grace period in which to feel bad, then expected to “get over it.” But recovery doesn’t operate on a timetable; true healing from trauma is spread out over years if not the entirety of a person’s life. If someone you know has been through a traumatic experience, don’t be afraid to acknowledge what has happened and let the survivor work through it in their own time. Help them seek professional support and treatment to manage and work through some of the more troubling symptoms PTSD can bring into a person’s life. Individuals with PTSD need your support, not your judgment.

No one chooses illness, mental or physical. If your loved one is struggling with one of these stigmatizing issues – weight management, substance abuse, or PTSD – ask what you can do to support their efforts toward healing. Talk with them about it; a small thing like checking in on someone to see how they are can mean the world to a person dealing with a stigmatized disorder.

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About Constance Scharff PhD