There has been a stigma about mental health for decades.  And unfortunately, this stigma deters many people from seeking the help they need to deal with their mental health issues.  Acknowledging that many suffer with mental health issues is a big step forward, but much more needs to still be done.  It has never been more pertinent than now to recognize the role mental health plays in our overall well being and the value in raising awareness and helping those in need receive treatment.

Mental Health Awareness Month was first celebrated in 1949. It was commemorated by the Mental Health America organization, which was then known as the National Committee for Mental Hygiene and then later as the National Mental Health Association before it got its current name. The association was founded by Clifford Whittingham Beers. Beers, who was born in 1876 in Connecticut, was one of five children in his family who all suffered from mental illness and psychological distress. All of them also went on to spend time at mental institutions and it was from his hospital admittance that he discovered that the mental health field had a notorious reputation for malpractice, maltreatment and major bias.

Gaining popularity and support from medical professionals, Beers founded the National Committee for Mental Hygiene. Beers and his colleagues at the association wanted to find ways to make sure that mental health patients not only received the right care, but also did not feel alone in their fight against mental diseases.

Mental Health Awareness Month was created as a way to educate the public about mental illness, raise awareness surrounding research and treatments, reduce the stigma associated with mental illness and celebrate recovery from mental illness. Because of misconceptions and stigma surrounding mental health issues, people often suffer in silence and don’t seek treatment for their conditions. Mental health awareness is an important initiative to improve understanding of mental health conditions and increase access to healthcare for those who need it.

Recognition and education are important ways to remove the stigma associated with mental illness. Mental Health Awareness Month creates a time and space to start a conversation. Talking openly about mental health can reduce the misconceptions and stigma, and can encourage those who are suffering to seek help and find a support network.

It’s important for caregivers, friends and loved ones to understand the impact that mental health has on daily life. Mental Health Awareness Month provides education about the reality of living with a mental health condition.  While it can make life more difficult, it doesn’t have to stop someone from having a fulfilling life. When people are better educated on these conditions, they can better support and help someone dealing with a mental health issue.

Nearly one in five adults in the US has a mental health condition. But that one person has family, friends and others whose lives are touched by their condition, even if they don’t themselves suffer from one. You might be surprised by the prevalence of mental health conditions in adults in the US:

  • 48 million have an anxiety disorder
  • 21 million have major depression
  • 9 million have post-traumatic stress disorder
  • 7 million have bipolar disorder
  • 3.5 million have borderline personality disorder
  • 3 million have obsessive compulsive disorder
  • 1.5 million have schizophrenia

There’s a lot of suffering happening in the US, but there are things that can help and it doesn’t just have to be during the month of May.

Many mental illnesses have a dietary component.  This means that a possible nutrient deficiency can be a cause of certain mental illnesses.  Even in the US, where food is abundant, there are people suffering from malnutrition that can contribute to mental illness.  One of the problems faced in the US is a phenomena known as food deserts.  These are areas, usually in lower income neighborhoods, where people don’t have a grocery store or access to healthy foods.  And while the answer may be obvious, just open up access to healthy food in these neighborhoods, there is the flip side.  Many lower income neighborhoods are also riddled with crime, which makes it much more difficult and ultimately more expensive to open stores in these areas.  It’s a catch twenty-two.

Another big reason for mental illness in the US is drug addiction.  And this isn’t limited to illegal drugs.  The opioid crisis that was generated by the pharmaceutical industry is another spoke in the wheel of mental illness.  And while this is being addressed, making it harder for people to have access to prescription pain killers, the illegal drugs can be found in any city, on almost any corner.  Unfortunately, many people who suffer with mental illness related to drug addiction refuse to admit they have a problem or don’t seek help.  And even if they do seek help, there are not enough places and health advocates to treat everyone.

So what can be done?  Well, a lot of what contributes to mental health can be learned while we are young.  Things like meditation and utilizing talk therapy or counseling.  Even spending time in nature can be beneficial for one’s mental health.  But there are other interventions that can help too, including medicinal mushrooms (psilocybin), EMDR therapy (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing), breathing techniques, exercise and even acupuncture.

Finding the right treatments can take time, but this is why the month of May is so important.  By bringing more awareness to the mental health crisis in the US, more people can gain insight into ways to help.  So if you or someone you know suffers from some form of mental illness or just needs a little help, now is the time to look around and also look within and step up.  Be the light for yourself, your family, your friends and your community.  The more we come together, the stronger everyone becomes.

For more information or to get help, please contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) at (800)662-4357.

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