May 1st sparks the beginning of Mental Health Awareness Month! May is a time for America to focus on the toll mental illness has taken on the lives of millions and start a conversation centered on solutions and acceptance.
Dedicating an entire month to raise awareness about mental illness is especially important as the leading cause of death in the United States is suicide. Productive conversation and action can lead to a society more well equipped to handle the growing crisis by increasing the availability of providers, lowering the cost of treatment, and ending the stigma people with mental illness face in almost every aspect of life.
Statistics About Mental Illness in the United States
Mental illness is much more common than you might think; according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIH), tens of millions of Americans experience mental illness each year. This statistic alone emphasizes the importance of mental health education and awareness. Unfortunately, of those people, only about half will pursue or receive treatment.
This lack of treatment can be attributed to a variety of factors:
- Lack of access in their area
- Patients cannot afford treatment options
- Patients do not have transportation or childcare for appointments
- Providers in their area are booked solid and won’t accept new patients
- The patient may not know the signs and symptoms of their mental illness and don’t think they need treatment.
When more people become aware of the growing national mental health crisis in America, they can petition for an increase in access to services for underserved populations.
What Makes Mental Illness Difficult to Combat
People with mental health conditions suffer from an invisible illness, which makes their symptoms much more difficult to see and understand. Patients must rely on family and friends to trust them when they describe their symptoms, rather than chalking up their difficulties to laziness and choice.
A list of some of the most common mental illnesses include:
- Major depression, persistent depressive disorder, and postpartum depression
- Bipolar disorder I and II
- Generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety, and phobias
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder
- Anorexia nervosa, bulimia, and binge eating
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder
- Borderline personality disorder
- Addiction and substance abuse
Mental illness spans much further than depressive episodes and panic attacks. While many people are familiar with these two illnesses, and acceptance for them has increased over the years, many of the less well-known illnesses are still stigmatized. If someone bases their understanding of schizophrenia on what they’ve seen in movies, they will only have access to the harmful stereotypes perpetuated by the media.
History of Mental Health Awareness Month
Mental Health Awareness Month began in 1949 as a way to diminish the stigma around mental health conditions. It was started by Mental Health America, an organization that aims to address the needs of those living with mental health conditions while improving the mental health of everyone. Even if you don’t have a diagnosed mental health condition, stressful moments like a difficult time at work can take a toll on your mental health.
Each year, they release a toolkit with a new theme designed for people to offer outreach activities in their communities. The month has expanded to include all sorts of events lead by a variety of organizations and individuals, all meant to reduce the stigma and increase education about suicide, depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, and other mental illnesses.
Awareness is important because until there is awareness, there can be no solutions, and there can be no acceptance. When we remove the stigma behind the symptoms of mental health conditions, the public will stop seeing coping mechanisms like stimming as odd and start accepting that symptoms of mental illness are not something the patient can control.
Ways to Participate in Mental Health Awareness Month
This year, participating in Mental Health Awareness Month will look a little different due to COVID.
Most years, you can find events in your area to participate in run by local chapters of Mental Health America and other participating organizations.
This year, you can download the mental health month toolkit and learn about self-resiliency in dealing with your own mental health issues. You can participate by starting conversations with those close to you and by dedicating social media posts to sparking conversations.
A simple post on Facebook showing that you are an ally to those struggling with mental health conditions could come as a great comfort to someone suffering in silence. If you’re going to make a post like this, you need to follow through and listen if and when people reach out.
Take the time to reach out to friends you feel might be struggling. Your message might come at the perfect time and you would never even know the impact you had.
Think You Might Show Signs of Mental Health Condition?
If you are experiencing diminished mental health and think you may have undiagnosed mental health conditions, look online for behavioral health services in your area. If you have a primary care physician, make an appointment to talk with them about the mental health issues you are experiencing. They can refer you to specialists trained specifically in handling mental health conditions. If you don’t have any physical, in-person clinics nearby, you can try out text-based therapies or check out Teledoc to meet with a therapist through video chats.
Clinical depression and anxiety are not things you can just “get over” on your own. While staying hopeful and pursuing treatment with a positive mindset is important, they are conditions just as real as any physical disease that requires treatment.
You can’t cure diabetes with a positive attitude.
If you think you need help, prioritize your health today and make an appointment with a professional.
The Importance of Recognizing Mental Health
Raising awareness about mental health conditions, especially the less well-known ones, helps inspire people to get treatment, give neurotypicals the tools to become a better ally, reduce the stigmas involved with mental illness, and start important conversations that lead to change. Mental Health Month is the perfect time to talk with those around you about the prevalence and variety of mental health conditions and raise awareness about what people can do to help.