Tuesday, May 8, 2012

May is Mental Health Month


May is Mental Health Month, and it has me thinking.
Mental Health America is the sponsor of Mental Health Month. This year’s theme is “Do more for 1 in 4.”
According to the MHA website, “an estimated 26.2 percent of Americans ages 18 and older—about one in four adults—suffer from a diagnosable mental health disorder in a given year.”
One in four. That’s a lot of people.
I’ve written before about working as a health educator for nearly eight years. One of the things I did in my job was to keep up with national health observances. (You can find a list of them at Healthfinder.) There are a lot of them throughout the year: months, weeks and days dedicated to observing a particular health condition or concern.
Health observances mark a time for people to be especially focused on raising awareness about and educating people about a specific health condition.
While as a health educator with limited time and funds I couldn’t raise awareness about all the observances, I knew each was important to someone.
I have a special interest in Mental Health Month because I suffer from and people dear to me suffer from mental health disorders. I have obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression and generalized anxiety disorder.
According to the observance promotion materials provided on the MHA website, many people—as high as 50 percent—who have a mental health disorder don’t seek or get treatment because of the stigma of mental illness, lack of information, cost or lack of health insurance coverage.
How many of you can relate to that? I can.
I remember thinking that I would never see a counselor—it would be too embarrassing. I remember thinking I would never see a psychiatrist—anyone who found out about it would think I was crazy. I remember crying before I took my first antidepressant pill because I believed that I must be a weak person. I remember not having health insurance and making decisions about treatment based on how much money I had.
It shouldn’t be that way for people with mental health illnesses or physical illnesses. Everyone should have the ability to get the basic health care they need.
I realize that as a country, we need to figure out the best way to reach that goal. But figuring it out should be one of the top priorities of our leaders.
Funding for and access to mental health care should not lag behind that of physical illnesses either. A lot of people suffer from a mental illness at some point in their lives. Look around the room at work, or in a restaurant or at church. One in four.
One of the most frustrating things about knowing that people are not seeking treatment for mental health problems is the fact that, as MHA states in its materials, they are treatable.
People don’t have to continue to suffer.
They do need to know about the diseases they suffer from, that help is available and where that help is. And they need to have a means to access that help.
I don’t have all the answers. But I know some things I can do.
I can take care of myself the best I can to be an example to others that treatment can help in living a wonderful life as well as to have the health I need to help others.
I can keep up with current legislation that affects health care, including mental health care, and communicate my concerns to my representatives.
I can, as I am able, educate and advocate for others, whether that’s by listening to a friend who suffers from a mental illness or a family member of one who suffers; writing a letter to the editor of the local newspaper calling for less stigma and more help; blogging about my own experiences; or speaking about mental health issues to a local group.
One in four. That’s a lot of people, don’t you think?

What are the best ways to advocate for those with mental illnesses? Can you see yourself doing any of those things?


  1. Yes one in four is a lot of people...it's important to bring awareness to how prevalent it truly is. Thank you for this post my friend.

  2. I feel like blogging is one of the ways I help. It helps me and hopefully, it helps others. That is part of my mission, to help others.

    I remember when I first read Brain Lock when I was 19 years old, I wrote a lot of notes in the margins of the book. I went back and read some of those recently and a few of them made me sad. I wrote:
    "I will never take medication."
    "I will never go to a shrink! People will think I'm crazy!"
    "Therapy is for weak people!"

    Society and all the stigma out there really dominated my thinking for many years.

    1. Elizabeth, You do help others with your blogging--I can attest to that.

      That's so sad that you wrote and believed those things when you were younger. That's the way I thought too.

  3. We have to end the stigma of mental illness. We wouldn't judge ourselves if we had diabetes or cancer or some other illness, yet we somehow see brain illnesses as a failure of character.

    Someone I care about very much has done well with dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), but she cannot get insurance to cover it. The insurance companies still do not recognize her diagnosis (Borderline Personality Disorder) as valid. Fortunately, she has access to funds, but others do not have that luxury.

    One reason I have been open about my generalized anxiety disorder on the blog is that I don't think we should have to feel ashamed or silenced about what we deal with. That's another reason I appreciate your blog so much -- it helps people to know that they are not alone and they don't have to feel shame.

    1. Thank you, Nadine. I couldn't agree more--we should not feel shame for having a mental illness--it's not a failure or weakness of character. I wonder how the stigma got started. Perhaps because there were no visible wounds, no physical symptoms? It's frustrating, but each voice that speaks out, including yours, carries us forward.

    2. Nadine, I'm curious. Do all health insurances refuse to accept BPD as a diagnosis, or is it just this particular insurance? I thought BPD was a widely accepted diagnosis. I'm really surprised to hear this.

  4. Thanks for this post. Education is soooo important!

    1. You're welcome, Lisa. I agree--education is very important. People fear what they don't understand sometimes.

  5. I agree with Nadine! I have to do something about the stigma. You've gotten me thinking....

    1. Jodi, Good things happen when you start thinking about something in particular! :-)

  6. Yes, one in four is a lot of people. And how great it would be if all of those people felt comfortable enough to discuss, or at the very least admit to, their mental illness. We would be one step closer to reducing the stigma......once we all start talking, I think mental illness will become more "real" to a lot of people. Instead of it being "one in four" people suffering, it will be, "my friend, my neighbor, my relative."

    1. Janet, You make an excellent point. When it becomes personal--someone I know, someone I love--it becomes less of a stigma. Thank you!

  7. Yes, that is a HUGE number of people who struggle. I am always blown away by that statistic.

    I also felt terrible before I started taking medication. I was just a jumble of emotions, and none of it was good. I realize now that it's just something I need. I have a brain malfunction, and well, so be it.

    I also agree that it should be an urgent priority for our nation's leaders to try to provide as much mental health care to as many people as possible. It not only makes moral sense, it even makes economical sense, as there is tremendous lost productivity due to mental illness. Frankly, it's just the right thing to do.

    1. Sunny, I agree. I read on the MHA website that that mental disorders are the leading cause of disability in the U.S. That's a huge economical impact, as well as the personal impact and the impact on families.

  8. Yes Tina, One out of 4 people is really a lot!! Mental illness is not less dangerous or less painful than any other physical illness. It is even worse. I can relate to all the points you mentioned about how hesitant you were before seeing a psychologist or a psychiatrist. I have that same problem, as in my country, even doctors, yes medical doctors treat you like if you are crazy and stupid if you suffer from a mental illness. My husband was beating me once just before I forgot the box of anti depressant on the table, and someone might have seen it :(

    I just nominated you for the Versatile Blogger and Beautiful blogger awards! You can check it on my latest Blog post!


  9. Nikky, That is terrible that some medical doctors don't have a true knowledge of mental illnesses. The stigma of mental health illness seems to not be limited to the U.S. I am so sorry that you have suffered at the hands of such doctors, and at the hands of your husband. I know you are doing great things to move forward in your life.

    Thank you so much for the nominations! I appreciate it. :-)

  10. Hi Tina, First, thank you for your encouragement. After a decent night's sleep, (my cats didn't make that a "perfect" night but oh well) I'm doing much better. I'm forging ahead.

    I think there is still such an enormous stigma surrounding mental health issues. It's tragic! I know people who think you just need to eat right and exercise and you can cure anything. I can't judge them because I was that person at one time. Hopefully society will understand at some point. We've come a long way but still have a ways to go.

    Thanks for a great post and a great blog! Hugs.

  11. Grace, I'm glad you got some rest. That can change our perspective, can't it?

    I agree--too much stigma. I think many people underestimate the effects that mental health illnesses can have on one's life. They don't realize that depression goes beyond feeling down sometimes, that OCD goes beyond wanting everything to be clean and well-ordered, that anxiety goes beyond some jitteriness before a public event--they can have devastating and real effects on those who suffer with them.

    Thanks for stopping by!

  12. Tina,
    You know, you bring up some great points about mental health: 1 in 4 is an incredibly high number but the thing that infuriates me the inability of a lot of people to gain access to help from their issues. It makes me so sad that the gov't continues to cut and cut money from this area yet more people are suffering! URGH!

    1. Tracy, I know. It seems to be an "easy" place for cuts, perhaps because it affects many people who may not feel comfortable speaking out about it.


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