Mental Health Experts Say One Of Biggest Hurdles To Treatment Is Stigma

The Rocky Mountain region continues to face some of the highest suicide rates in the country. A recent panel of experts in Colorado addressed what they said was one of the biggest hurdles to mental health: social stigma. 

The panel was convened by the Colorado Springs Gazette and KKTV. One of the speakers was Dr. Leon Kelly, the El Paso County Coroner and chief medical examiner. He sees firsthand the impacts of depression and suicides.

“I just exited the morgue,” Kelly told KRCC, “and I did three gunshot wound suicides. Three adult men ages 18, 36 and 54. So we really are on the front lines of seeing where our systems have failed.”

According to Kelly, adult males have the highest rates of suicide because they face the most stigma for mental illness.

“They’re the hardest group to reach out to,” said Kelly. “They are the hardest group to admit that they need help and they are the hardest to get to follow through on that help.”

Kelly said one way of breaking through the stigma barrier is to treat depression and other mental illnesses more like physical illnesses – like diabetes or a broken ankle-- so there’s less shame in seeking medical or professional help. He also encourages people to talk with each other more openly about how mental illness has affected them or the people they love.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUER in Salt Lake City, KUNR in Nevada and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.