May 2016 marks the 67th time the United States has observed Mental Health Awareness Month. It has been more than six decades of steps forward in the public perception of mental illness, but the White House and Mental Health America are encouraging citizens to go the rest of the way.
Last year, Mental Health America used the national attention to spark a conversation about how people whose mental illness is addressed before Stage 4 can recover quickly.
This year, the nonprofit is promoting the theme "Life With a Mental Illness" to demystify some of the common misconceptions about various mental health issues. Sharing experiences is critical in ridding mental illness of its stigma, stated Paul Gionfriddo, president and CEO of Mental Health America
"Mental illnesses are common and treatable, and help is available," Gionfriddo said. "We need to speak up early - before Stage 4 - and in real, relatable terms so that people do not feel isolated and alone. Sharing is the key to breaking down the stigma surrounding mental illnesses and to showing others that they are not alone in their feelings and their symptoms."
Mental Health America is encouraging the public to share what mental illness feels like to them and to promote their stories with the hashtag #mentalillnessfeelslike.
The hashtag is a great icebreaker, but there's plenty more people can do to spread awareness about mental health issues and the help change the public perception of mental illnesses.
Get A Move On
A brief, yet potentially meaningful, first step toward spreading awareness about mental health issues is taking the National Alliance on Mental Illness' pledge.
"Individuals, companies, organizations and others can all take the pledge to learn more about mental illness, to see a person for who they are and take action on mental health issues," says the National Alliance on Mental Health.
With that warmup done, there are other steps a stride or so longer than than the first two.
Leaders in faith-based groups can go here to start the conversations about mental health issues in their communities, while minority interest groups can go here and over here. And youth counselors can go here.
Individuals can also make waves without being a part of a charitable organization. Anyone can download this proclamation and forward it to their city leaders to have it read at local events.
For more ideas, visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
By The Numbers, And Beyond Them
Each year, one in five adults in the United States experiences mental illness, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. That's about 43.8 million people, or around 18.5 percent of the country.
The stigma and lack of awareness surrounding mental illness is costing America about $193.2 billion each year in potential productivity and wages lost.
It's a serious issue for the entire public, but the message is having an especially difficult time in minority communities where Hispanic Americans and African Americans turn to mental health services at about half the rate of Caucasians. And Asians do so at a third of the rate.
And it impacts our future, especially when it goes untreated. About a third of students with mental health issues drop out of school.
It can also erase our past. Between 18 and 22 U.S. military veterans commit suicide every day.
This country was founded on the idea that every citizen must take care of each other, stated President Barack Obama. And people take care of each other when they know others who are struggling with mental health issues.
"This month, we renew our commitment to ridding our society of the stigma associated with mental illness, encourage those living with mental health conditions to get the help they need and reaffirm our pledge to ensure those who need help have access to the support, acceptance and resources they deserve," Obama said in his Mental Health Awareness Month proclamation.