When I first started writing about mental health in 2013, the landscape was also different. There was a glaring lack of coverage about these issues across the media, or worse, news outlets would prominently cover a celebrity’s or citizen’s “erratic behavior” as something that was “bizarre” or “entertaining.” A lot of suicide reporting was insensitive, glamorizing, salacious ― or all three.
A lot that can be attributed to both tragic and affirming events that have occurred since 2010. Below are just a few defining moments from the past decade, all of which influenced the way we talk about and view mental health today:
The public nature of celebrity deaths by suicide yielded to a more monumental conversation about mental health, according to Gregory Dalack, chair of the Michigan Medicine Department of Psychiatry and treasurer of the American Psychiatric Association. The tragedies “triggered greater awareness about the stigma around mental health and the importance of seeking help,” he told HuffPost.
Some of those tragedies can even be attributed to celebrity deaths, thanks to a phenomenon called suicide contagion, when media coverage and details about a prominent person’s death can lead others to take their own life.
“Despite all of the tragic deaths, the suicide numbers have increased each of the last 10 years,” Dan Reidenberg, executive director of the Suicide Awareness Voices of Education, told HuffPost. “One would like to believe if this was really important to the public and the government, far more would have been done about it ― not just because of the large number of celebrities but the people that were connected to them.”
We can’t talk about the last decade without acknowledging the political chaos we’ve all experienced. The 2016 election, the barrage of negative news and the constant cultural turmoil have all had massive repercussions on how we think and feel.
In fact, a study conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan found that three political events (including the 2016 election and the 2017 inauguration) affected the mood of medical interns just as much as the strenuous first weeks of medical training. “This research reflects an overall trend showing that politics is in fact affecting people in both their personal and professional lives,” Dalack explained.
“At the same time, social media has some significant benefits such as it provides a wealth of resources and access to information that didn’t exist before. Social media can also provide huge numbers of connections to people who in turn can provide support, reassurance, help and care in times of crisis or need,” he added.
The rise of celebrity candor about their personal experiences has arguably been one of the most positive advances in mental health in the last decade. Public figures ― from the British royals to musicians to actors ― were more outspoken than ever about their mental health conditions, therapy, self-care and more.
“There have been tons of celebrities that have come forward, been brave and spoken about their own journey,” Leigh told HuffPost. “That is incredibly inspiring on my behalf because I can see people who have been willing to put themselves out there and ― judged or not judged ― just be open enough to share their struggles.”
There is still progress to be made, and experts hope to see more strides in the coming 10 years. The priority for both Dalack and Reidenberg is getting people the mental health treatment that they need.
“Over the next decade, I’d love to see improved access to mental health care across the nation,” Dalack said. “This will require efforts from insurance companies, physicians, as well as politicians. Those of us working in the field will need to continue to innovate new, cost-effective treatments that leverage technology and reach folks in remote and rural communities. We all need to be held accountable.
“In the most broad sense, I hope that in 10 years people will live understanding that mental health-related issues are no different than any other body or brain-related issues,” Reidenberg said. “If you aren’t feeling well, you have to talk to someone, regardless of the origin of the illness.”
As for me, I hope the landscape is once again different in a decade. I want to one day stop writing about suicide and stigma. Not because I’m not passionate about my job, but because the outcome has improved so much that there isn’t anything to write. That’s a 10-year challenge worth fighting for.
This content was originally published here.