When Images of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Become Harmful
Head of federal agency urges media and public to rethink their perceptions on mental health and substance abuse.

By Chris Adams

Kana Enomoto, who oversees the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, says one way society could get a better handle on mental health is by the media paying more attention to the images and language they use every day.

SAMHSA, a $3.7 billion component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, oversees grants for mental health and substance abuse programs around the country.

Enomoto gave National Press Foundation fellows an overview of her agency, but also talked extensively about the reasons people don’t get the care they need. Some of the reasons deal with cost and access. But a third or so deal with “societal concerns” – being worried about how neighbors, employers or family members will react.

That’s all part of trying to change the way people see and think about mental illness. One way is changing language usage. While people talk about the “stigma” of mental illness, Enomoto said, “We don’t use the word stigma. You look the word up in the dictionary and it refers to a mark of shame.”

“People say, ‘You have to deal with the stigma of having a mental illness,’ ” she said. “Well, no, I don’t.”

Among resources for journalists and researchers:

This program is funded by The Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies. NPF is solely responsible for the content.

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