Stigma around mental healthcare is fading — and youths led the way, Atrium leader says

Mental health issues have been a taboo topic in the U.S. for generations, but that has started to change.

Young people, including high-profile athletes and other celebrities, have opened up publicly about their struggles. The rest of society appears to be following their lead, including when Sen. John Fetterman of Pennsylvania shared with the public that he checked himself in for inpatient depression treatment in February.

Jennifer Ziccardi, MSN, RN, Charlotte, N.C.-based Atrium Health's chief nurse executive and vice president for the behavioral health service line, spoke with Becker's about stigma and the importance of dismantling it.

Editor's note: Responses were lightly edited for clarity and length.

Jennifer Ziccardi: I feel the behavioral health community has done a significant job segregating and carving out behavioral healthcare over the last few decades, and now we are trying hard to dismantle that. We have carved out insurance plans, we have created a medical record system that is almost impossible for other providers who care for the same individual to collaborate and provide care in a whole-person manner, and we have cultivated an environment to be embarrassed to talk about receiving mental healthcare. Hence, the birth of stigma.

I applaud our youngest members of society who started the ball rolling about destigmatization. They don't even know they started it. YouTube, blogs [and other platforms] used to talk about their issues have enabled others to come forward. 

I would say the past six or so years we have seen the initial destruction of stigma led by our youth, and now adults are participating. It is refreshing to see and I applaud those in powerful, high-power positions to tell their stories. It helps; it works. It provides a sense of hope and instills bravery in those who may not otherwise feel empowered to seek treatment.

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