When most people think of good health, they tend to focus on physical well-being. Yet, sound mental health is inextricably linked to productivity, normal function, comfort, and contentedness, as well as a sense of connectedness to others and the world around us. When people experience symptoms of a mental health issue, it is easy for them to feel afraid or broken, like they do not belong, and – all too often – like they can’t talk openly about it for fear of judgment. Nearly 43 million adults – roughly 1 in 5 – suffer from a mental health disorder every year. And, while much ground has been gained in recent years to promote a greater awareness of the nature of mental health issues and the need for treatment, stigma and misunderstanding are still all too common.
Left untreated, mental health issues dramatically impact the quality – and length – of our lives. Depression has been closely linked to major disabilities and makes other illness more likely. Research has shown that about 10.2 million people have co-occurring mental health and addiction issues, since there is often a strong tendency to self-medicate to relieve uncomfortable feelings, pain, or severe mood imbalances. And most suicides in the nation (90%) also involve an underlying mental health condition. Treatment has been shown to bring about significant long-term benefits. Yet, approximately 60% of persons struggling never receive the help they need.
Beginning in 1949, Mental Health America (MHA) has worked to better engage citizens and communities around the issue by establishing May as Mental Health Month. Through a range of activities and increased dialogue, the yearly observance is designed to better educate Americans about mental health issues and their impact, while advocating for improved diagnosis and treatment. The theme for this year is Risky Business, and outreach focuses on getting people to think more about habits and behaviors that increase the risk of developing or exacerbating mental illnesses, or could be signs of mental health problems themselves. MHA has compiled a host of resources that address troublesome patterns of behavior from promiscuity and risky sex to prescription drug and marijuana use to excessive spending and exercise. The hope is that by better recognizing the risks that these behaviors present, early detection of warning signs – and professional help if it is needed – will be more likely. Individuals are also encouraged to join the discussion and share their thoughts and experiences on social media by using the hashtags #riskybusiness and #mhm2017. As always, if you think you may have signs or symptoms of mental illness, MHA offers free screenings at www.mhascreening.org.
There are other ways to get involved and show your support. A leading voice in the effort to combat mental illness, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is sponsoring a parallel campaign this month to ensure that no one feels alone in their mental health journey. NAMI wants citizens to not only reach out to help a loved one or friend who may be dealing with a mental health issue, but urges them to become part of the movement to establish a nationwide network of support and resources that offers broad-based assistance to those who are navigating a disorder. Show you are #IntoMentalHealth by learning the facts, sharing important messages on social media, contributing your story or that of a loved one, or joining a NAMI walk in your area to raise awareness and critical funding. Perhaps most importantly, we can all advocate for change, by:
We all have a role to play to help to normalize and support those with mental health challenges. And there are many ways to make a difference this May. So, no matter what you choose to do, do something. Real change occurs every day that we bolster understanding, reduce stigma, and share resources to help people cope, live a higher quality of life, and heal emotional and psychological wounds. As always, we should also know how to help in a crisis. That often means finding quality help and treatment. If you know someone who is struggling with a mental health issue, call NAMI’s free helpline to get tips and information about mental health programs.
And if a loved one or friend displays evidence of drug abuse or addiction that may be impacting their mental health or quality of life, give us a call at 540-535-1111. We may be able to help start them on a road to recovery or help them find specialized services.