May is National Mental Health Awareness Month
May is National Mental Health Awareness Month. This initiative focuses on bringing relevant mental health resources, tools, and education to the general public. Each year, major mental health organizations (such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Mental Health America, and more) put on webinars, events, and share resources in an effort to improve mental health awareness across the nation.
In this month’s blog post, I want to discuss the history of National Mental Health Awareness Month, why it matters, and how you can participate.
History of Mental Health Awareness Month
Mental Health Awareness Month has been observed in the United States since 1949. It was originally started by Mental Health America, which, at the time, was called the National Association for Mental Health.
Typically, Mental Health America announces a theme for each year’s Mental Health Awareness Month. In recent years, the themes have been:
- 2008: Get Connected
- 2009: Live Your Life Well
- 2010: Live Your Life Well (Part Two)
- 2011: Do More For 1 in 4
- 2012: Healing Trauma’s Invisible Wounds
- 2013: Pathways to Wellness
- 2014: Mind Your Health
- 2015: B4Stage4
- 2016: Mental Illness Feels Like
- 2017: Risky Business
- 2018: Fitness #4Mind4Body
- 2019: #4Mind4Body (Part Two)
- 2020: #Tools2Thrive
- 2021: #Tools2Thrive (Part Two)
Each theme focuses on that year’s mental health awareness initiatives around a specific topic or issue.
May 2021 Mental Health Awareness Month: Tools2Thrive
In 2020, Mental Health America announced the theme for Mental Health Awareness Month would be “Tools2Thrive” as a response to the pandemic. The organization wanted to acknowledge the severe impact the COVID-19 impact can have on people’s mental health.
Some of the adverse results of the pandemic on people have been:
- Job loss
- Loss of savings
- Getting sick
- Loved ones getting sick
- Loved ones passing away from COVID
- Fear of getting sick
- Unhealthy work schedules due to blend of work and home
It’s likely safe to say almost no one has been unscathed by COVID-19 and its consequences. During the pandemic, approximately four in ten adults in the US have reported symptoms of depression or anxiety disorders. This is significantly higher than pre-pandemic numbers, which were sitting at only one in ten adults experiencing depression or anxiety.
Additionally, a KFF Health Tracking Poll in July 2020 reported that:
- 36% of adults were experiencing difficulty sleeping
- 32% of adults were having trouble eating
- 12% of adults were increasing their alcohol consumption or substance use
- 12% of adults seeing a worsening of chronic conditions.
These statistics are from just a few months into the pandemic, and we can safely assume that things have only worsened as the COVID-19 pandemic has continued for over a year.
May 2020 was the 70th anniversary of Mental Health America’s Mental Health Awareness Month. The “Tools 2 Thrive” theme aimed at providing mental health resources and tools to people who needed them. Mental Health America’s President and CEO stated in the May 2020 theme announcement that “Until now, there were still some people who believed that mental health wasn’t everyone’s concern. They thought that our annual mental health resources … were aimed at just a small group of people – the one in five who have a mental health concern in any given year. That isn’t the case today. Just weeks ago, we had no idea that all our worlds were going to be turned upside down by the coronavirus. Or that the associated worry, isolation, loneliness, and anxiety would be something that literally everyone – all five in five – would experience.”
And, I couldn’t agree more. As a physician, I have seen first-hand the impact that this pandemic has had on people’s mental health. I genuinely stress and hope that this May’s Mental Health Awareness month will help highlight to everyone the issues that they might be dealing with – and the fact that they may need to consider getting help.
As we approach May 2021, it’s clear that the pandemic isn’t over. There is hope that the end is near, but countries worldwide are still reporting cases and deaths, and things have not returned to normal. As a result, Mental Health America announced it would continue last year’s theme of “Tools 2 Thrive” into 2021.
This year, the purpose is to continue to give individuals practical tools that can help them improve their mental health and increase their resiliency while dealing with the pandemic.
Mental Health America’s toolkit offers help and suggestions for:
- Adapting after trauma and stress
- Dealing with anger and frustration
- Getting out of thinking traps
- Processing big changes
- Taking time for yourself
- Radical acceptance
I encourage anyone who is interested in these free resources to download the Mental Health America toolkit here.
What Mental Health Awareness Month Looks to Achieve
Fight Mental Illness Stigma
The main goal of Mental Health Awareness Month is to break down the stigma around mental health conditions. It’s clear that our society has made significant progress in recent years. More individuals consider therapy, openly talk about their mental health issues, and are compassionate with others with mental health conditions. But there’s still a long way to go.
For example, the American Psychiatric Association reports that more than half of people with a mental illness don’t seek treatment. This is due mainly to the role of stigma around mental illness. A 2019 national poll found that approximately 50% of workers were concerned about bringing up mental health issues at their job. Additionally, 33% were worried about being fired if they sought mental health care.
However, when substantial efforts are made to battle stigma, there are clear positive results around mental health awareness. One research study reviewed the effectiveness of an anti-stigma campaign in California. The study found that of the people who were exposed to the campaign with a probable mental illness, 47% would pursue mental health treatment. In comparison, only 36% of adults seek treatment who have not been exposed to an anti-stigma campaign.
There’s still a lot of work to do in battling stigma, and the Mental Health Awareness Month every May is one way we will get there. I encourage my patients to take it one step further and openly discuss mental health with their friends, family, and partners to help reduce the stigma that exists around this topic.
Spread Awareness & Resources
Unfortunately, many people simply don’t understand the complexities of mental illnesses. And this confusion can spread unfounded fear or misunderstanding. This leads to toxic situations, such as telling a depressed person to just “try to be happy.” Or, being scared that a schizophrenic or bipolar individual will hurt you.
Even if you don’t have a mental illness, it’s highly likely that at some point, you’ll interact with someone who does. For that reason, it’s crucial to educate yourself. Mental illness can be challenging itself, and individuals don’t need more added to their plate from confused friends, coworkers, or family members.
Mental Health Awareness Month reminds individuals that:
Mental health illness is common
You should prioritize your mental health
There’s no shame in getting help
It’s important to be understanding to those around you with a mental illness
Mental illness is not your fault
Mental illness is not something to be embarrassed about
How to Observe Mental Health Awareness Month
Everyone can – and should – participate in Mental Health Awareness Month every May. The first step you can do is educate yourself on mental health. Review the vast pool of free resources provided by organizations this May to teach people about mental health.
Next, consider opening up about mental health with those close to you. If you’re struggling, share those thoughts and feelings with your friends, family, and partner. You might be surprised to find out that your loved ones are also struggling. If you’re not grappling personally, still consider checking in with those around you. People who are having a difficult time will appreciate your concern and thoughtfulness.
Remember that you should always prioritize your mental health. This can look different for every individual. It can be as simple as being active, eating well, saving for the future, spending time with loved ones, or getting in some alone time.
Lastly, consider evaluating your mental health status and if you need to go to therapy. For problems small or big, therapy can help to provide answers and coping skills.
Why Mental Health Matters
Mental illnesses are a lot more common than most people realize. In the United States, it’s estimated that almost one in five adults lives with a mental illness. That is over 51 million people across the country.
This statistic was accurate before the COVID-19 pandemic began, and there’s intense speculation that coronavirus will have long-term mental health consequences on larger populations.
What is Mental Health?
Mental health includes a person’s emotional and psychological well-being. Our mental health impacts how we act, feel, and behave. It can affect our relationships, the decisions we make, and how we respond to stress. When a person experiences mental health problems, it can negatively affect the individual’s thoughts, mood, and behavior.
Mental illness are divided into two broad categories: Any Mental Illness (AMI) and Serious Mental Illness (SMI).
Mental illnesses can result from biological factors, such as genetics or brain chemistry, trauma or abuse, and family history.
When a mental illness is left untreated, it can impact a person’s quality of life. Their work performance, relationships, and inner thoughts can all suffer. A Serious Mental Illness (SMI) left untreated can even put the individual in harm. For example, they might be a danger to themselves or make risky decisions.
In contrast, treatment from a mental health professional can help people live healthier, happier lives. A psychiatrist can help educate the individual on their condition, teach coping strategies, and provide medication (if necessary). A person’s quality of life can significantly improve as they’re given the tools and resources they need to navigate their condition.
What Stops People From Seeking Mental Health Treatment
The most common reasons people don’t pursue mental health treatment are:
Fear and shame (a.k.a stigma)
Lack of insight
Feelings of inadequacy
Understanding these barriers may help you recognize them in yourself. I help my patients work through these barriers and learn where they came from.
Lotus Psychiatry & Wellness
Everyone can benefit from therapy. Your mental health is just as important as your physical health. Just like you need to eat well and exercise to take care of your body, the same applies to your mind. In honor of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Month, consider how therapy could benefit you. The COVID-19 pandemic has been hard on everyone and your mental health has likely been impacted by the last year. As a trained and considerate psychiatrist, I can help you process how the pandemic has affected you and teach you coping skills for the months we have ahead of us.
Get help today at Lotus Psychiatry & Wellness. Contact us to book your first session.