Each year, millions of people in the United States struggle with mental illness. Children and adults alike must work daily to manage their mental health disorders—in spite of the social pressures and negative stigma which tend to surround these issues.
More treatments, therapies, and medications are developed all the time to help people learn to cope and effectively manage the symptoms of a mental illness. However, not everyone is aware of just how difficult it can be to struggle with such a disorder, the depth of treatment a person may need to overcome or manage it, or how many people are affected by mental illness.
In fact, lack of awareness may be the reason many don’t seek help for their illness, as they may feel ashamed, humiliated, or otherwise distressed to enter treatment or ask for help.
Despite such a barrier, we can make headway on removing the stigma associated with mental illness, allowing people who need help to seek treatment and learn to manage their issues in a way that fosters growth, healing, and self-confidence. Mental Health Awareness Month is one way to help promote the change needed to reverse previously held associations regarding mental health.
What Is Mental Health Awareness Month?
Mental Health Month, also called Mental Health Awareness Month, was developed in 1949 to “increase awareness of the importance of mental health and wellness in Americans’ lives, and to celebrate recovery from mental illness,” according to Youth.gov.
Each year in May, organizations across the United States come together to raise awareness about the importance of recognizing and managing mental health, and hold events and form alliances to foster such awareness.
Mental Health America, a community-based, nonprofit organization dedicated to helping people who live with mental illnesses, states that Mental Health Month allows communities and organizations alike to spread the word that, “mental health is something everyone should care about.” Organizations recognize Mental Health Month in a variety of ways, such as with community events, fun runs or walks, and other awareness activities.
Mental Health America designed a toolkit with fact sheets and tips regarding nutrition, sleep, exercises, dietary changes, stress, and social media which are pertinent to positive mental health. It is also holding the Fitness Challenge: 4Mind4Body, which encourages people to take a proactive role in becoming more physically fit in recognition of the importance of physical health and its influence on mental health.
Other organizations are also participating in Mental Health Month—the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has chosen to promote the theme of CureStigma throughout all of its community-based events.
NAMI cites the reasoning behind this theme, stating, “One in 5 Americans is affected by mental health conditions. Stigma is toxic to their mental health because it creates an environment of shame, fear, and silence that prevents many people from seeking help and treatment.”
The National Alliance on Mental Illness encourages participation in Mental Health Month through engaged participation, such as:
- sharing encouraging messages regarding mental health awareness on social media
- learning facts regarding mental health to share with family and friends
- sharing a personal experience with mental illness to encourage the same transparency in others
- creating a fundraising campaign to support the cause
- joining a NAMI Walk
Though May is Mental Health Awareness Month, the National Alliance on Mental Illness holds awareness events throughout the year as well.
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is focusing its Mental Health Month efforts on encouraging people to have real conversations about mental health through its RealConvo campaign. The Foundation states, “89 percent of people believe that mental health is just important as physical health. Despite this, many people don’t know how to have a conversation about it.”
Resources from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention include educational facts for individuals, parents, and school administrators and staff, and a calendar of events outlining open speaking events, live stream chats, and open social media chats wherein people can engage in conversations about the importance of mental health.
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The Importance Of Changing The Stigma
The goal of Mental Health Month events across organizations centers around a common goal: reversing the negative stigma often associated with mental illnesses and seeking help for such illnesses. Stigma, by definition, is a mark of disgrace that we associate with a particular circumstance, person, or quality.
Though many organizations have aimed to remove any stigma attached to mental illness for quite some time, we have not yet eradicated the negative thoughts and attitudes some people hold regarding mental illness.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness describes such stigma as a virus which, “harms the 1 in 5 Americans affected by mental health conditions. It shames them into silence. It prevents them from seeking help. And in some cases, it takes lives.”
What exactly is the cost of the stigma surrounding mental illness? Some people with certain mental illnesses may have suicidal thoughts or ideations, become suicidal, or attempt or succeed in committing suicide. Some facts regarding suicide in the United States include:
- Suicide is the tenth-leading cause of death.
- Each year, 44,965 Americans will die from suicide.
- For every suicide, 25 will attempt.
These (most recent) numbers are suspected to be even higher due to underreporting caused by stigma.
Instead of shaming people into shying away from the help they need, Mental Health Month and all the affiliates who participate in it intended to encourage education, support, healing, and a removal of stigma. It is only through such efforts that we can begin to change the tides of mental health, paving the way for more open conversations, easier and less stressful ways to seek treatment, and, hopefully, far fewer tragedies related to mental illness.
Mental Health And Addiction
While millions of people in the U.S. struggle with a mental health disorder, many of those are facing both a mental disorder and a substance use disorder (also termed a co-occurring disorder or dual diagnosis). If seeking help for a mental illness is difficult for a person due to the stigma associated with it, seeking help for addiction and a mental illness may be even more so.
People who struggle with mental disorders, such as severe depression, may seek substance abuse as a way of coping or self-medicating. With time, this misuse can lead to addiction, or chemical dependence with some substances, including alcohol, benzodiazepines (Xanax), and opioids (heroin, OxyContin). Treating mental illness or addiction is achievable with the most customized treatment program, ample support, and ongoing progress assessments. Treating a co-occurring disorder can be more complex, but is also highly possible—an excellent treatment program can provide treatment for both addiction and mental disorders when both are identified and assessed.
However, when one disorder is not identified and is left untreated, a person’s chances of success in recovery from either disorder may be altered. Both addiction and mental illness are often on the receiving end of the negative attitudes of others.
With decades of research, it is more clear every day that mental illnesses and addiction are chronic diseases which require ongoing care, much like other diseases which affect a person’s body. Further, mental disorders and substance use disorders are far more common than may be apparent to the general public, and so are co-occurring disorders: 7.9 million adults faced both a substance use disorder and a mental illness in 2014.
Either addiction or a mental illness may occur first, and one disorder may affect the symptoms of the other disorder. Because of this, prompt and adequate treatment for co-occurring disorders is vital. Many inpatient rehab centers provide dual diagnosis treatment programs which work to treat both disorders accurately and efficiently, teaching patients the skills and principles necessary to manage these issues long-term.
How To Help Someone Who Struggles With A Mental Disorder
If someone is struggling with mental illness, people around them may be at a loss for what to do. The most important thing we can do to help people with mental illness is to be understanding—to let them know they are not alone in their struggles, that we are here to support them, and to offer a listening ear and words of encouragement whenever possible.
There are also a number of active ways to get involved in helping people learn to manage their mental illness. Many mental illnesses render people incapable of or adverse to being proactive about seeking help. Symptoms of their mental disorder may leave a person feeling depressed, sad, lonely, or otherwise at a loss for the energy or motivation necessary to get help. When this is the case, loved ones can bridge the gap.
First, we can open conversations with people about their struggles; sometimes opening up to a family member or friend can be the beginning to opening up to a professional who can help the person manage their illness. We can encourage loved ones to seek help from a counselor, physician, or psychiatrist. This is especially important if a person begins to exhibit signs of severe depression or suicidal thoughts or ideations. For people who struggle to even face the day, certain medications may help them to function while they work toward long-term management tactics.
Exercise, nutrition, and fitness play a large role in mental health. Some people may suffer from a nutritional deficiency, which can affect energy levels, sleep patterns, and more. Many alternative therapy methods also help people who struggle with mental illness, such as yoga, tai chi, mindfulness activities, and meditation.
A number of evidence-based therapies, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavioral therapy, individual and group therapies, and more have proven effective at helping people learn to manage a mental illness.
When it comes to mental illness, there is no single treatment that will work for every person. Mental illnesses are as unique as the people who face them, and treatment must be customized to fit the needs of the individual.
Many inpatient programs are comprised of these treatment components and more which foster both healing and long-term management of the illness. People who face a dual diagnosis will benefit most from a program that is tailored to meet the needs and address the symptoms of both illnesses.
Mental health is important to all of us. In any case of mental illness, the bottom line remains the same: prompt and adequate treatment can help people who struggle to make changes for the better, manage their symptoms, and live full, healthy lives.
For more information on mental health and inpatient treatment, contact us today.
**The organizations mentioned in this article are not affiliated with DrugRehab.org.
Additional resources from DrugRehab.org:
- Can Drug Use Cause Mental Illness?
- The Best Tips On Making Good Choices For Your Mental Health
- How Can The Substance Abuse And Mental Health Services Administration Help Me?
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention — Mental Health Awareness Month
Mental Health America — Mental Health Month
National Alliance on Mental Illness — Dual Diagnosis, Mental Health Month
National Institute on Drug Abuse — Comorbidity: Addiction and Other Mental Disorders
National Institute of Mental Health — Substance Use and Mental Health