May is Mental Health Awareness Month

In 1949, the non-profit organization Mental Health America (MHA) held the first Mental Health Awareness Month, which is also called Mental Health Month. The goal of Mental Health Awareness Month (MHAM) is the same as the overall organizational goal of MHA: to raise awareness about the needs of people living with mental illness and promote the general mental health and well-being of all Americans.

Before we discuss this year’s MHAM theme, we’ll take a moment to describe the components of MHA’s advocacy agenda. They speak to mental health awareness in the broad sense, and are important aspects of any effort to raise public knowledge and understanding of mental health.

MHA is committed to:

  • Helping the general public recognize mental health is a critical part of overall wellness
  • Advocating for prevention services for all
  • Advocating for early identification and support for individuals at-risk of mental health problems
  • Promoting the value of integrated mental health care and services across a full continuum of care
  • Helping anyone who needs support find appropriate support, help, and care

In addition to those praiseworthy goals, MHA has an overarching organizational philosophy worth mentioning. It’s called Before Stage 4. Stage 4 is a term used in the treatment of chronic diseases to describe the point just before a condition becomes life-threatening. The Before Stage 4 philosophy recognizes that with most chronic diseases, we start treatment long before stage 4. We work to prevent them early on. And if that doesn’t work, we identify symptoms and develop a course of treatment to stop the disease. MHA believes we should do the same with mental health conditions, most of which are chronic. We should identify symptoms, start treatment, and work toward healing – all before the situation is critical, i.e. Before Stage 4.

We couldn’t agree more.

This Year’s Theme: #4Mind4Body

This theme for 2019 – #4Mind4Body – is a repeat of the theme MHA used last year. However, this year they’re expanding the idea and applying it in new and fresh ways to offer comprehensive support for people struggling with mental illness. #4Mind4Body 2019 will explore topics related to mental health such as animal companionship, spirituality, humor, life-work balance, social connections, and recreation.

MHA: 10 Key Messages for 2019 

  1. Mental health is a key component of overall health and well-being.
  2. Mental illnesses are common and treatable.
  3. There should be no stigma against having a mental illness or seeking treatment for a mental illness. Just like there’s no stigma against having a chronic physical condition, such as cancer or kidney disease, and seeking treatment for that disease.
  4. A healthy lifestyle can help people prevent, manage, or recover from mental health conditions, as well as chronic health conditions.
  5. Humor, spirituality, recreation, animal companionship, and work-life balance are crucial in managing chronic mental health conditions.
  6. Laughing, exercising, meditating, or finding a way to work from home can significantly improve mental health conditions.
  7. Pets or service animals can have a positive impact on health, wellness, and the ability to recover from and manage mental and emotional disorders.
  8. Life is not always funny, but looking for the humor in every situation and seeing the bright side of things can help an individual process, manage, and overcome difficult situations.
  9. Spirituality – defined here as a connection to something greater than oneself – helps to give perspective, comfort, and peace of mind when dealing with challenging experiences, circumstances, and emotions.
  10. Quality treatment for mental health conditions is available for those who need it.

MHA makes a point to remind everyone that a healthy mind, body, and spirit do not happen overnight. If you’re in a bad place and struggling, it may take work to turn things around – but it can be done. It takes consistent practice over time. The key is to make small changes, implement them every day, and steadily build on success until the healthy changes become default habits.

Mental Health in America: Basic Statistics

 The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) also has a theme for this year’s Mental Health Awareness Month: Why Care? Their most basic answer to this question is this:

Care Because Mental Health Care is Health Care

Everyone needs health care, and everyone needs mental health care: it’s a no-brainer. Breaking through the stigma surrounding mental illness and mental health treatment is of particular concern for parents of adolescents, in light the folllowing statistics from NAMI.

Youth Mental Health: 10 Stats to Know

  1. 21% of youth (12-17) in the U.S. experience a severe mental health disorder at some time in their life.
  2. 13% of children (8-13) in the U.S. experience a severe mental health disorder at some time in their life.
  3. 50% of all mental health conditions begin by age 14.
  4. 11% of youth have a mood disorder.
  5. 10% of youth have a behavior or conduct disorder.
  6. 8% of youth have an anxiety disorder.
  7. Only 50% of children (8-15) with a mental health condition received mental health treatment in the past year.
  8. 37% of youth over age 14 with a mental health disorder drop out of school.
  9. Suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death for youth in the U.S.
  10. 90% of people who commit suicide have an underlying mental illness.

These figures paint a picture that’s hard to ignore: a significant portion of our young population struggles with some sort of mental health disorders. Whether they receive treatment or not, they live with uncomfortable symptoms every day. Since all the figures above are in percentages, it may help to attach raw numbers to foreground the importance of Mental Health Awareness Month. The latest census data show there are roughly 25 million adolescents in the U.S. Using the figures above, that means close to 4.5 million adolescents have a mental health disorder. Since only about half of them received treatment in the past year, that means there are over 2 million adolescents out there in need of help, support, and guidance. The reasons they don’t receive treatment are undocumented, but it’s easy to imagine that stigma, cost, and lack of awareness contribute to the treatment gap.

Spread the News: Treatment Works

The treatment gap is disturbing because, simply put, treatment works. Data shows that with the right treatment, most people with severe mental health disorders have significant reduction of symptoms and improved quality of life. By most, we mean 70-90%, and by the right treatment, we mean integrated, evidence-based treatment. That’s another thing that makes Mental Health Awareness Month important: every day across the U.S., people struggle with chronic mental health conditions when what they need – integrated, evidence-based treatment – is within reach. They’re in pain, and the resources are there to ease their suffering. If you’re reading this and you know someone with a mental health condition, you can help them by checking in and making sure they have the support they need. If they don’t, you can offer whatever assistance they’ll accept, whether it’s a friendly ear, a ride to an appointment, or guidance in finding a mental health professional.

You can advise them to start by consulting the following resource pages:

  • The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) maintains a mental health support resource page here.
  • The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) maintains treatment finder page here.
  • The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) maintains a mental health resouce page here.
  • Parents of teenagers can find a qualified professional in their area with this psychiatrist finder provided by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry

Finally, please don’t forget yourself. If you’re struggling with a mental health condition or you’re the primary caretaker or caregiver of someone with a mental health condition, apply the core message of Mental Health Awareness Month to yourself: treatment works – and it’s within reach right this very moment.