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?