HEALTH NEWS

Walgreens Joins Growing Efforts to Raise Awareness on Mental Health Issues

Written by Ann Pietrangelo on May 18, 2016

Walgreens mental health

Getting help for mental health issues might soon be as easy as going to your local drug store.

Walgreens has announced they are becoming part of the movement that has been slowly brewing for decades to shift attitudes about mental illnesses.

In collaboration with Mental Health America (MHA), the drug store chain has launched a new mental health platform. Its purpose is to increase mental health awareness and reduce stigma.

Visitors can access information through the mental health portal of the Walgreens website. Included are online screenings for a variety of mental health conditions. It will also help you find local resources. You can even set up a video chat with a therapist.

Walgreens mental health

“We’re proud to help meet the need for mental health resources in our communities, to encourage those who have questions or concerns to seek answers, and to work closely with other providers and partners to help more people get the support and services they need,” Walgreens President Alex Gourlay said in a press release.

“I do think efforts like this can be very helpful,” added Gary Brown, Ph.D., L.M.F.T., a licensed psychotherapist in Los Angeles. “Anything that broadens the public's awareness of mental health issues is most welcome.” 

Walgreens is not alone in their efforts to mainstream mental health.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), in partnership with the Hope & Grace Initiative, is running a new public service announcement (PSA).

Featuring actress Mayim Bialik, the PSA prompts viewers to think about harmful words used to describe mental illness. The goal is to change the conversation surrounding mental health.

In a given year, about one in five adults in the United States experiences mental illness, according to NAMI.

That means there are almost 44 million people who need help.

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The Evolution of Mental Health Awareness

Nicki Nance, Ph.D., L.M.H.C., is assistant professor of human services and psychology at Beacon College. She said the evolution of mental health awareness began with the baby boomers.

“The pop psychology movement of the 1970s promoted the trending of talk therapy. This feel-good generation advanced fitness in the 1980s. Today, as the wealthiest generation, still youth obsessed, [it] throws a lot of money at anti-aging products, holistic health, and the integration of mind, body, and spirit,” Nance told Healthline.

“The last few generations have glorified troubled brooding in their “emo” and “goth” personas, suggesting an acceptance of life’s struggles, the need for treatment, and the triumph of recovery,” she added.

There are more contributing factors.

According to Nance, drug company advertising has helped normalize anxiety and depression. Self-help groups and recovery groups are plentiful.

Celebrities openly share their mental health stories. Social media makes it easier for everyone to join the conversation.

Talking about mental health is less shocking than it once was.

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Still a Long Way to Go

“Increasingly, it is easier to ask for help and receive help,” Brown said in an email to Healthline. 

“This is particularly true in urban settings,” he added. “The opposite is true in more rural settings. There simply are not enough quality mental health services available in smaller and more isolated communities.”

He noted there are cultural determinants that factor in. Some cultures discourage asking for help.

“We have a ways to go in order to break through these stereotypes,” said Brown.

To address that issue, he said it might be helpful for PSAs to target minority and diverse communities. PSAs should highlight that most people experience stressful situations in their lives and it’s often helpful to seek support. 

Brown also suggests a role for therapists who represent the race or culture of their community. They could educate local leaders in the public and private sectors about the need for and availability of mental health services.

“People are becoming more aware that mental health issues deserve respect and treatment just like every other health condition,” said Dana Harron, Psy.D., a clinical psychologist in Washington D.C.

She said there’s still a problem with internalized stigma.

“Many people now find it easy to encourage a friend to seek out psychotherapy but have difficulty doing it themselves,” she said.

Harron told Healthline another potential downside is the medicalization of human suffering. 

“When mental health difficulties are treated as though they were similar to problems that are purely physical in nature, insurance companies begin pushing for fast and easy treatments that are often ineffective in the long run,” said Harron. “You cannot ‘fix’ the human psyche the same way that you ‘fix’ a broken arm.”

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Getting Help Still a Problem

Mental health services are expensive, especially when ongoing care is needed.

Under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), most health plans cover some mental health and substance abuse services. Millions of Americans still lack health insurance.

Brown said because his practice doesn’t accept third-party reimbursement, the ACA hasn’t had a direct effect on his patient load.

“I am noticing that both mental health patient volume and acuity is much higher, judging from the increased number of mental health associated emergency department contacts throughout the country. There is also an increase in demand for Medicaid mental health services for those who cannot afford the premiums in some of the exchanges.”

We’ve come a long way toward destigmatizing mental health.

“Now, if we could just find a way to get it all paid for,” said Nance.

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