National Minority Health Month- Wrestling With The Stigma Of Mental Health

By Kelli Axley, Unity Psychiatric Care Huntsville

Author’s Note: Each July, National Minority Mental Health month is observed to bring awareness to the unique struggles that racial and ethnic minorities face regarding mental health. Unity Psychiatric Care, here in Huntsville, is a 20-bed hospital offering comprehensive inpatient care for adults who are experiencing serious mental health symptoms or having a psychotic episode.

One of the most difficult challenges facing families these days is caring for a loved one battling Alzheimer’s or a related form of dementia. The Alzheimer’s Association estimates that 6.8 million people in the United States have Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia. The rapidly increasing number of people living with dementia is hitting minority families particularly hard. An Alzheimer’s Association study revealed that for all adults 65 and older, African- Americans are about twice as likely to have Alzheimer’s or another dementia related diagnosis compared to Caucasian and Hispanic populations. This presents a difficult challenge for communities who often have a tough time accessing mental health resources.

Health-care professionals and older adults themselves often under-identify mental health problems. The stigma associated with mental health, in addition to, asking for help often creates barriers of embarrassment and resistance to seeking help. Experts say that waiting to seek treatment may be causing your loved one more harm. The reason is, that dementia is a progressive syndrome, which causes deterioration in memory, thinking, behavior, and the ability to perform everyday activities. It mainly affects older people, although it is not a normal part of aging.

“Families often wrestle with the stigma of mental health but are so often relieved and grateful when they do reach out to get treatment for their loved one,” said Shannon Nichols, CRNP, nurse practitioner and one of the clinical leaders at Unity Psychiatric Care in Huntsville. “It is so important to seek help in the early stages of dementia. The right treatment can make all the difference for the patient and their families.”

While there is no medication currently available to cure dementia, the Alzheimer’s Association says the right interventions can effectively address the symptoms and improve the lives of people with dementia and their caregivers, such as:
• Early diagnosis, to promote early and optimal management
• Optimizing physical and mental health, functional ability, and well-being
• Identifying and treating accompanying physical illness
• Detecting and managing challenging behavior

“We see the positive results each and every day when patients receive compassionate, comprehensive treatment for dementia,” said Kyle Smith, LICSW, administrator at Unity Psychiatric Care in Huntsville. “We provide a safe, therapeutic environment to address patients’ psychological and physical needs, which maximizes their functional abilities and improves quality of life.”

Unity Psychiatric Care also offers support services for families, helping them adapt and respond to the impacts of dementia. To learn more call: 256-964-6700 or visit

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