Millions of Americans are affected by health disorders that are so stigmatized, they’re too afraid to get help. Whether that’s due to embarrassment or intimidation caused by incorrect or outdated cultural ideas, many feel alone in their experience and don’t seek the treatments they need. Here are a few of the common health issues that are often stigmatized but shouldn’t be, and tips on how to get the needed treatment.
Depression is a mental illness that negatively impacts the way that sufferers feel about themselves, others, and life in general. Typically, it causes a feeling of intense sadness, insomnia, or thoughts of suicide. While almost half of all adults will experience a mental illness in their lifetime, only 41 percent of Americans with mental disorders have gotten professional help in the past year. Experts often attribute this to cultural stigmas against mental health issues, like the (incorrect) stereotype that they signal weakness. This can make those suffering feel ashamed of their mental illness and to shy away from getting the proper help they need to live their life normally.
Erectile dysfunction, or ED, is a disorder that causes men to be unable to get and maintain an erection firm enough for sexual activity or intercourse. For many sufferers, it can be embarrassing to address with a partner, but, they’re often too ashamed to speak with their doctor about it because of the stigma that ED is a reflection of their own masculinity. But it’s a lot more common than most think. By age 40, 40% of men struggle with ED, and the number only climbs from there. It’s important to talk about sexual issues and reduce the stigma because it’s nothing to be embarrassed about; in fact, it’s often caused by underlying health concerns, certainly not levels of masculinity or attraction to a partner. Feeling shame about this issue will actually keep men of all ages from bringing it up with their doctors to seek the necessary help.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease with Colostomy Bags
Inflammatory Bowel Disease, or IBD, causes ongoing inflammation of the digestive tract. One of the ways to deal with IBD is colostomy surgery, which creates a stoma in your abdomen to divert waste matter into a bag that is attached at the opening. While the colostomy surgery can provide some sense of relief for the disease, it is still uncomfortable to live with, and patients often report embarrassment while using the bag or experiencing IBD symptoms (which are often the brunt of jokes) in public. Being able to be a bit more open and have support through the process is essential to feeling comfortable and more at ease while living with the disease.
Obesity is a medical condition that occurs when a person’s weight is higher than what is considered to be healthy for their specific height. While there is no perfect weight and size to strive toward, obesity becomes an issue when it starts to affect heart health. Yet, obesity has been politicized, joked about, and stigmatized so often that few people feel motivated enough to address it. But being overweight is not something to be embarrassed about or to hide from your doctor. The important thing is to get help and to start somewhere. Your doctor knows your body and will be able to make realistic goals for you and your health, to get your numbers back to a place that will help you stay around, and healthy, for many years to come.
Being embarrassed about health disorders will only keep you from asking your doctor about it and finding an actionable solution to make things better. While these common disorders should definitely be talked about to reduce the stigma that surrounds them, there are also great solutions for non-judgmental treatment out there to deal with these health issues in whatever way works for you:
- Telemedicine: For those people who are uncomfortable bringing up their issues in person, an option like telemedicine might be the best way to speak with a doctor–privately and over an online chat– to get information, discuss their concerns, and get prescriptions. This is especially beneficial for those dealing with mental or sexual health issues who don’t feel comfortable speaking with their doctor in-person. Whether it’s a behavioral assessment and appropriate mental health treatment option, or a diagnosis and prescription for one of the many available ED treatments, a doctor working through telemedicine can make it much easier for patients to access help.
- Support groups: Discussing issues with others who share your struggle can be a very therapeutic thing, especially for those suffering from stigmatized disorders like IBD. For those living with the disease, ostomy support groups can be very effective. They provide an opportunity for people who have had or will have surgery, caregivers, or even family members and friends to talk about their struggles, fears, and experiences related to surgery and recovery, while also learning from one another.
- Behavioral therapy: While most people associate behavioral therapy with addiction or other mental health issues (which it is certainly effective for), it can also be a great tool for those suffering from obesity. It provides a safe place for patients to address the underlying causes of overeating and get on the path to recovery while also setting up plans to improve eating and exercise habits. Working individually with a counselor can help patients come up with smaller, achievable goals to strive toward, and ultimately address the condition.