May is Mental Health Awareness Month — a month dedicated to eliminating the stigma faced by people who live with mental illness. The month is used as a forum to discuss how individuals and society can address misconceptions and misunderstandings about mental health.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), one in four adults experiences mental illness in a given year — nearly 61.5 million Americans. One in 17 lives with chronic, serious mental illnesses, such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Yet treatment numbers do not match the need, as almost 60 percent of adults and 50 percent of children ages 8 to 15 with a mental illness did not receive mental health services in 2013. Mental Heath Awareness Month seeks to abolish the negativity surrounding mental illnesses and provide more opportunities to support those who live with them.
One area where improvement is desperately needed is children’s mental health. Mental health issues are common in children, and having the proper tools to support them is crucial. According to NAMI, nearly 20 percent of Americans between the ages of 13 and 18 experience severe mental disorders — such as bipolar disorder, major depression or schizophrenia — in a given year. For many, the teenage years are already difficult, with stressors such as school, peer pressure and bullying. Imagine adding a mental illness such as depression during such formative years.
To help, it is crucial to provide teens with information regarding mental health. An open dialogue needs to be created among children and their peers, parents, teachers and guardians. Mental health stigma stems from an inability to understand such illness. People tend to fear what they don’t understand, which can ostracize those struggling with mental health issues.
The best ways to address this problem are through education, conversation and community building. The American Psychological Association has marked this year’s Mental Health Awareness Month as one that will be dedicated to children, women, LGBTQ individuals and older adults. The APA website list its events for this month, which include:
- The “Speak up for Kids” Change Maker Awards, lauding individuals and organizations who took a stand for children’s mental health awareness.
- The social media campaign #ResilienceBooster, which takes place from May 4 to 10 and provides information on how to support healthy development in children.
- The APA and the National Parent Teacher Association are hosting a webinar May 7 dedicated to talking to teens about stress management.
- International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia takes place May 17 and is dedicated to ridding society of the negative (and occasionally violent) mentalities held against the LGBTQ community.
Another way to participate in Mental Health Awareness month is through the innovative “Text, Talk, Act” campaign on May 7. Sponsored by a number of organizations, the campaign combines technology with human interaction, encouraging users to create groups of three to four people to have a text-enabled conversation about mental health. Users can send their group questions and then see responses from around the country. This interpersonal experience has the power to change the lives of thousands of individuals experiencing mental illnesses. It’s one step in bringing about the necessary change to alleviate stigma attached to mental health issues. For more information on “Text, Talk, Act,” visit the campaign website, check out the #TextTalkAct hashtag or follow @MentalHealthCCS on Twitter.
It is far past the time for society to move on from the antiquated stereotypes and stigmas attached to people living with mental illness. Mental illness affects people of all ages and from all walks of life. Their health should be a primary concern, and something that we have a safe and open venue to talk about. Let’s use May to spread awareness, love and support.