Every day is a chance to show compassion and understanding to those suffering from a mental illness and May is the month that is dedicated to spreading awareness about mental illnesses, which have been stigmatized for far too long. It is estimated that one out of every five Americans is affected by mental health conditions. Unfortunately, the stigma attached to these health issues often shames people from seeking the help they need.
Why is Mental Health Awareness Month Important?
Having a month dedicated to raising awareness regarding mental health shines a light on a topic that is generally treated as taboo and rarely talked about. An increase in awareness also increases the importance of understanding the need for the prevention and treatment of issues related to mental health.
How does raising awareness make a tangible difference in the lives of those who suffer from mental illness? Some of the successes of these efforts include:
- The Affordable Care Act expanded health insurance coverage to about 30 million Americans in 2016, 11 million of which were newly eligible and gained access to substance abuse and mental health service needs.
- The Community Mental Health Services Block Grant gives financial assistance to carry out state plans that offer comprehensive community-based mental health services as well as evidence-based practices to adults and children with mental illnesses or serious emotional disturbances.
- In 2008, the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equality Act put an end to the practice of unequal health treatment and improved access to vital mental health and substance abuse disorder treatment services through equitable insurance coverage.
How Can I Support Mental Health Awareness Month?
If you want to show your support for Mental Health Awareness Month, but are unsure how we have some tips that will allow you to participate in de-stigmatizing mental illness:
- Learn how to help someone in crisis: Chances are that someone you know and care about, whether it be a close friend or family member, struggles with some form of mental illness. Know what signs to look out for and be ready to provide help, if necessary.
- Share your experience: If mental health issues have affected you, or others who are close to you, share your experience with someone. Talking about and sharing your experiences can be an empowering experience for you and those with whom you share your story.
- Understand the connection between language and stigmas: The use of certain words help perpetuate the stigma that is attached to mental health, so be conscious of your language and selective with your choice of words. Using words like “crazy” or “weak,” for example, are harmful, help fuel misunderstandings of mental illness, and are generally insensitive.
- Take care of yourself: One of the best ways we can all contribute this month is by managing our own mental health and contacting a mental health professional or treatment center, if necessary. When we improve our own mental health, we are better able to help others, so do not neglect your own needs.
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Dr. Greg Gale has been practicing and providing leadership in the field of psychiatry, substance use, and integrated care in the Phoenix metropolitan area for over 11 years. He joins us from his role as a national medical director overseeing behavioral health, substance use, and integrated care services for Humana Behavioral Health. Previously, he was CMO and VP of Clinical Services at Partners in Recovery, a not-for-profit behavioral health and substance use service organization, which operates five clinics throughout Maricopa County.