May is Mental Health Awareness Month. In researching this yearly event I was surprised to learn that it started back in the 1940’s as a weekly observance and eventually expanded to include the entire month of May. In 2013, then President Barack Obama signed a proclamation stating his commitment to mental health and confirming May as National Mental Health Awareness Month.
Each year there is a different theme. Some past themes include What Mental Illness Feels Like, and Pathways to Wellness. This year’s theme is Risky Business. Mental Health America, the organization that started Mental Health Awareness Month, explains:
We believe it’s important to educate people about habits and behaviors that increase the risk of developing or exacerbating mental illnesses, or could be signs of mental health problems themselves. These include risk factors such as risky sex, prescription drug misuse, internet addiction, excessive spending, marijuana use, and troublesome exercise patterns.
Mental Health America, and other organizations such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), have created tools and organized resources to assist individuals, organizations and communities in raising awareness of the types of issues the above risky behaviors present, especially for young people.
What a wonderful source of information and support this is for so many people, and my guess is these efforts have helped a good number in our society who are suffering. This type of outreach has likely saved lives.
Yet, even with all the awareness and advocacy surrounding mental health these days, there are still those who deal with brain disorders but are afraid to ask for help. Indeed, there are those who don’t even realize they are dealing with mental illness, and still others who reach out for help to no avail. I regularly hear stories of those being misdiagnosed, those who can’t afford proper treatment, and those who are told to just “suck it up” and get on with their lives. We live in a world where there is still stigma attached to anything even remotely connected to our mental health. Anyone who has first-hand experience with mental health issues or loves someone who does knows we have a long way to go.
And while I totally support Mental Health Awareness Month, I also believe we can each do our part every day of the year to bring about positive changes.
How? By talking. I don’t mean at public events, symposiums, or other organized activities, though they can certainly be helpful. I’m referring to talking to each other – our families, loved ones, friends, and coworkers. Let’s work toward being as open about our mental health as we might be telling someone we have a physical illness. And let’s not forget talking’s underrated counterpart – listening. Everyone needs and wants to be heard and if we make it a point to listen – really listen – to one another, we can make a huge impact on all of our lives.
One of the main things I’ve learned as an advocate for OCD awareness is that once you open up to others, they will often open up to you. How many of us have felt so alone at times, thinking that nobody could possibly understand how we are feeling? The truth is there are people out there who have gone through or are going through something similar. But we will never connect with one another unless we talk. We need to share, we need to be heard, and we need to allow ourselves to be vulnerable. How else will we find each other?
Mental Health Awareness in May began over seventy-five years ago. That’s a long time. And while we have made huge strides in some respects, there are still many people who are suffering alone and in silence. Let’s all do what we can to change that. Let’s start talking.