Mental Health Awareness Month is upon us. The month of May has been recognized to bring awareness to this important topic since 1949. While the focus should not end with the month, it does provide opportunities. Talking about the issue, in fact, does make it easier to talk about, to personalize the issue rather than seeing just an illness or perceived weakness. This is the importance of awareness, a start to the conversation.
Mental health issues are common; an estimated two out of five of people are dealing with some sort of mental illness. Expand the conversation to include substance use and the numbers are even higher, especially after the strain of the pandemic. There tends to be a barrier to discuss behavioral health issues. It is called stigma, defined as “a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality or person.” In contrast, when there is awareness about mental illness it encourages more open communication, identification and early intervention.
Keep in mind these individuals are not only statistics but make up our community. This is our family, neighbors, friends; or it could be ourselves. This can be especially important for marginalized community members. Early intervention is essential in receiving appropriate care. By raising awareness we can normalize treatment and prevention like we would any other illness.
Behavioral health (includes mental health and substance use) should be seen as part of overall health and wellness rather than the many misconceptions that are out there. These issues can be managed by treatment and prevention efforts. Why should mental illness be any different from physical health conditions, such as diabetes, blood pressure or cancer? In fact, focus on your mental health can positively impact your physical health.
Awareness is also knowledge, and knowledge is power. Power can bring about positive changes in our community. Awareness is essential to understanding issues related to behavioral health and how to access support. Public knowledge is so important in accessing community resources. If you or someone you know needs support, do you know what is available in your community?
Awareness also decreases stigma for those individuals struggling with behavioral health issues. If we are aware of their struggles and strengths, we can begin to develop empathy and see the whole person and not just the illness. Stigma creates an environment of shame and guilt that too often stops those who need help from seeking treatment. Normalizing not only treatment but prioritizing all behavioral health issues and struggles could be a huge step forward.
Awareness can also trigger change on a much larger scale. As awareness from the public increases, more powerful and focused attention is produced. This attention can eventually result in important changes for those with behavioral health struggles and their families. It can lead to changes in policy, research, funding, prevention, innovations in treatment, access to appropriate and affordable services and changes in health care coverage.
Let us choose as a community to make behavioral health a priority. If we continue with more awareness, the pressures may increase and may result in more funding for resources. Let us keep the conversations and awareness on behavioral health issues in our community going. Do not be scared to talk about it. It may be difficult to start, but the power to reach out and educate the community is worth it. The connections we make with others in our community are the most powerful tool to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health and substance use issues.
Mental Health First Aid Training — May 26, contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Jackson Hole Community Counseling Center — 733-2046
Curran Seeley Foundation — 733-3908
24-hour crisis line or direct support if you have questions for yourself or loved ones.
National Suicide Hotline 1-800-273-TALK
St. John’s Medical Center Mental Health Resource Line — 203-7880
Call to find help with resources and supports in the community.