GBHWC wants to erase stigma of seeking help for mental health

Guam Behavioral Health and Wellness Center (PNC file photo)

May is Mental Health and Wellness Month.

Guam Behavioral Health and Wellness Center director Therese Arriola told PNC about how they hope to overcome the stigma around seeking help.

The theme for this year’s Mental Health and Wellness Month is “Seeing Through Stigma.”

Arriola said that there has long been a stigma around both having mental health challenges and seeking help for them.

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“The people of Guam have never had a problem with going to a medical doctor if they broke an arm or they have a cold. Seeking mental treatment is a different thing,” she said.

Arriola said that some of the cultural attitudes specific to Guam that have contributed to the stigma on island are an emphasis on self-reliance and not sharing familial issues outside the family.

“There are some cultural factors that come into play. Many people feel embarrassed that they’re not able to handle their responsibilities or their situations in life by themselves, so they think it’s an embarrassment to seek help. And so a lot of it is a cultural thing…being able to keep it to yourself if you will. Many people unfortunately were told to keep our familial problems to themselves. And so all of that historical trauma…of enduring through the war…and just keeping things to yourself..did not help anything when folks are seeking mental professionals,” Arriola said.

Arriola said that one of the most important tools in erasing the stigma is to raise awareness and educate the public.

She said that normalizing the seeking of treatment for mental health is especially important in the wake of the anxiety and isolation produced by the pandemic.

To raise awareness this year, Guam Behavioral Health is hosting several events throughout the month.

Some of the biggest events are an ongoing art competition that started on Wednesday and will run through the 14th.

There will also be a fair at the Agana Shopping Center on the 15th, a virtual 2K and 5K on the 22nd, and a Light Festival at the open corner lot near Oka Payless on the 29th.

There will also be informational programs on stress management.

All events are open to the public. All except the 2K and 5K are free.

Proceeds from the 2K and 5K will go to the Sister Bridget Foster Home which is run by Public Health and is set to open this month.

You can learn more about these events at the Guam Behavioral Health website and social media.

Arriola said that her goal is for Behavioral Health’s phone number — which is 647-8833 — to become as well known as 911.

“We just want to bring great awareness to the people of Guam that you are not alone. You are not alone in those difficult, dark times with COVID and the fears of COVID. But whether it’s COVID or not, Guam Behavioral Health and Wellness Center is here to help you navigate the highs and lows of life,” Arriola said.