Mental Health Awareness Month – May 2017

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Did you know that May is National Mental Health Awareness Month? I never remember what cause goes with what month, but this one is sticking out in my brain this year. Since it’s at the forefront of my mind this year, I thought it was appropriate to write about. Mental illness has affected many people that I know and love, so this piece is dedicated to those who are recovering and to those who may not yet be brave enough to seek out help.

Lately, there’s been a lot of conversation around mental health in the news; thanks to the discussion about the new health care bill under consideration and from the new series on Netflix, 13 Reasons Why. There’s a lot of hype right now around this new Netflix show. I haven’t watched it yet, but it’s on my list. It’s been binge-watched by millions of people at this point and it’s stirred up a lot of commentary on the internet. *SPOILER*: There’s a teen suicide and many critics fear that the series may paint suicide as an option for dealing with personal social issues. Rather than break down how mental illness plays a role in almost 90% of all suicides, the series places blame for Hannah’s (the main character) suicide on the inaction of some of the supporting characters. This depiction is pretty unfair, considering there are so many factors that can lead to a person killing themselves – one being mental illness.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness:

  • Approximately 1 in 5 adults in the U.S., that’s 43.8 million people, will experience mental illness in a given year.
  • In youth, approximately 1 in 5 children between the ages of 13–18 will experience a severe mental disorder at some point during their life.
  • “Mood disorders, including major depression, dysthymic disorder, and bipolar disorder, are the third most common cause of hospitalization in the U.S. for both youth and adults aged 18–44.”

Everyone rides the emotional roller coaster from time to time that is caused by events in our lives. That said, mental health conditions are more than that, they are longer lasting conditions that cause changes in our personalities and thoughts. Mental health conditions are not caused because someone is a good/bad person or because they are weak. No one is immune to mental illness since it’s caused by a variety of factors: genetics, traumatic experiences, environmental elements, and even how an individual’s brain is structured can be linking causes. Mental health conditions can lay dormant for years and then suddenly be triggered. They may also be fleeting, only happening seasonally or in random episodes.

Since so many people experience mental illness around us, the odds are very high that you interact with people every day that struggle with some form of mental health condition. If a person is struggling with mental illness, chances are that their children, parents, significant others, etc. are also affected, even if indirectly. Many people still believe that those who struggle with mental illness are “irresponsible,” “less than” or “not good enough,” which couldn’t be further from the truth. Less than half of adults who need mental health services will actually pursue them because they may feel shame or be afraid of being labeled or ostracized.

If you suspect that you or someone you know may be suffering from a mental illness, it’s helpful to know the warning signs and to seek out professional help. If you can, offer that person support – which is easier said than done – be a listening ear, help them seek out resources, but let them know that you are rooting for them. Remember that they are a person, not a condition.

Everyone can help take action on mental health issues in our communities and on a national level. Contact your representatives about health care legislation, volunteer for community organizations, and most importantly, use your voice to respectfully increase mental health awareness and accessibility to mental health services.

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