Mental health care stigma and resources in Pullman

People with mental illnesses may avoid going into therapy because of what others might think

RACHEL KOCH, Evergreen reporter

Though changes are occurring, many people still experience stigma connected to mental health issues and attending therapy.

“We know from research that there is a stigma toward people with psychological disorders or mental illnesses,” said Aurora Brinkman, a graduate student in the clinical psychology program at WSU. “I think [that is] because we still don’t know everything there is to know about mental health. It’s kind of less understood than physical health or physical illness.”

Brinkman’s research focuses on child behavior and stigma of disability, she said. The negative connotations that many associate with mental illness comes from a lack of understanding, she said.

“You can [often] see if a person has a physical disability, but with mental health, it’s not really visible all of the time,” Brinkman said. “People might think that depression is just laziness or anxiety is a person being worried, but there’s so much more complexity to it than that.”

Brinkman is a counselor at WSU Counseling and Psychological Services, she said.

“Since we’re in such a rural area, it’s absolutely vital that we have some kind of mental health resource,” Brinkman said. “The WSU Psychology Clinic and CAPS are both excellent resources.”

The stigma and misunderstanding that surrounds mental healthcare may lead to discrimination against people with psychological disorders, she said. This will also make people less likely to seek treatment for mental illnesses.

Laura Rehwaldt is a licensed mental health counselor who owns Lifespan Counseling, a practice that she operates in Pullman.

“Stigma has always been a part of psychology,” Rehwaldt said. “There’s so many reasons that come together, depending on people’s upbringing [or] what they’ve been taught.”

Some people feel afraid of therapy, which may prevent them from seeking help, even if they need it, she said.

Rehwaldt’s practice specializes in military health care, where there is more stigma against seeking treatment, she said.

“In the military, the culture is [to] be strong, be fortified,” Rehwaldt said. “It’s all about strength and coming together, so I think that it can look like a weakness.”

Although there is stigma when it comes to mental health care, it’s less than it used to be, Brinkman said.

“We have, as a society, gotten a lot better, which is really wonderful to see,” she said, “but I think there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done.”

Organizations that focus on access to therapy have contributed to the increased awareness and acceptance of mental health treatment, Rehwaldt said.

“It’s definitely a more widespread idea,” she said. “If every HR department in every company …  brought in resources, if schools brought in resources and always had that available, you don’t have to be a mental health group to promote the idea of being mentally healthy.”

CAPS is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and is located on the third floor of the Washington Building.

Lifespan Counseling is located in Suite 105 of the Gladish Community Center, which is located at 115 NW State St.