May is national Mental Health Month, a time to highlight the impact of mental illness on many Americans — and educate each other on the warning signs. Mental health challenges look different for each individual, and may be difficult to recognize. Studies show that mental health in the United States is worsening, and the stresses of past year of the COVID-19 pandemic has unfortunately worsened conditions for many.
While there are many factors that contribute to mental health issues, it is important to highlight two important facts; many people are not receiving the treatment that they need, and stigma is keeping many people from seeking treatment. In light of Mental Health month, here are some facts on mental health, and ways that we can fight the stigma.
- According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), the onset of mental illness symptoms and treatment is 11 years (fear of stigma and lack of tools to identify illness are often factors in the delay of treatment).
- 1 in 5 adults experienced mental illness in 2019.
- 1 in 20 adults experienced serious mental illness in 2019.
- Mental health issues can affect overall health:
- People with depression have a 40% higher risk of developing cardiovascular diseases than the general population. This risk increases for those with serious mental illness.
- 18.4% of U.S. adults with mental illness also experienced a substance use disorder in 2019.
Ways to Fight the Stigma
Become Educated About Mental Health
Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we feel, think, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. There are varying severities of mental illness, and not all mental health issues are long-lasting or considered serious disorders. However, all should be acknowledged. By becoming educated on the facts about mental health, we are able to understand and share this knowledge with others. Ways to become educated include research, discussion with sufferers of mental illness, and discussion with trained professionals.
Many people do not feel that they can share their struggles with general or even serious mental health issues due to fear of judgement and labeling. Openly discussing one’s own feelings with loved ones is a great way to encourage others to do the same and create a supportive environment. Even sharing positive messages about mental health on social media may help someone suffering feel less alone.
Be mindful of language
Sometimes our word choices can be hurtful even when we don’t intend them to be. Being conscience of language is a great way to end stigma. For example, when discussing someone’s actions, avoid using words like “crazy” or “nuts.” You never know if the person you are speaking to is going through, and don’t want to discourage them from sharing their own experiences because they heard you describe someone else that way.
View people as people—not their illness
Someone’s diagnosis is not their identity. Viewing them in this way reduces the complexity of their experience. Seeing others as humans with individual lives and experiences is important in combatting mental health stigma.
These are just a few ways to combat the stigma against mental illness. For more information on ways to observe mental health month, identify the signs, and resources for seeking help, visit: NAMI.org.