By Siomara Henderson | CONTRIBUTOR |

In this article on mental health awareness, we discuss why it’s important to be aware of the mental health struggles many people have and how you can make a difference today.

Lets Jump right in!

Mental Health Awareness Month

Mental Health Awareness Month brings attention to the widespread issue of mental illness that affects millions of people across America.

Every year, local communities organize events and activities that bring the conversation about mental health into public view.

The origins of Mental Health Awareness Month date back to 1949 when Mental Health America (then known as the National Association for Mental Health) first organized an observance in May as a way to raise awareness and erase the stigma attached to mental illness.

Mental Health Awareness Month has been observed every year since and remains a time where those who suffer from mental illness can be reminded of the support available to them and feel a little less alone in their struggles.

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What is Mental Illness?

Mental illness is a term used to describe mental health conditions that impact mood, thinking, and behavior. These disorders may interfere with a person’s ability to relate to others and function on a daily basis.

Common mental illnesses include:

Anxiety disorders are the most common form of mental illness affecting an estimated 48 million people in the U.S per year (19.1%), followed by mood disorders (9.7%).

Symptoms vary depending on the type of mental illness one is struggling with. However, some common symptoms associated with many types of mental illness include:

  • Insomnia
  • Agitation
  • Loss of appetite
  • Social withdrawal
  • Emotional numbness
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Excessive fear and worry
  • Self-harm
  • etc.
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The signs and symptoms of mental illness can often be confused for various other ailments such as stress, fatigue, or even teenage hormones. 

Other conditions may also mask a person’s true struggle with mental health such as an eating disorder, addiction, or even physical pain that does not have a clear source (such as back pain).

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Donate to support Mental Health

Mental Health Awareness Statistics

According to recent estimates from Johns Hopkins, one in four US adults (26%) experience mental illness each year, while research from NAMI states that one in twenty live with a serious mental illness such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder (13.1 million). 

Nearly 8 million children and adolescents in the U.S. suffer from a serious mental illness. 

In fact, 90% of Americans who die by suicide (the second leading cause of death among persons aged 10 to 34) have experienced symptoms of a treatable mental health condition such as depression, anxiety disorders or other forms of serious mental illnesses. 

Researchers also estimate that half of all chronic mental illness begins by age 14, and 75% by age 24.

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Yet despite these statistics, nearly 50% of people suffering from mental illnesses do not seek treatment. In fact, on average, it takes 11 years for someone to seek help after first experiencing symptoms of a mental disorder. 

This is attributed to the stigma associated with mental illness as well as underfunding for mental health care providers. 

Many struggle in silence without receiving the necessary support needed to manage their condition while others may not even realize they have an illness and continue to suffer despite its devastating effects on their lives.

The Stigma of Mental Illness

Stigma is defined as “a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person.”

The stigma surrounding mental health disorders leads to many people hiding their struggles and avoiding getting the help they need.

According to the American Psychological Association, more than a third of Americans feel uncomfortable interacting with someone who has a mental illness (39% would view someone differently if they knew of their mental illness, 33% agreed with the statement “people with mental health disorders scare me”).

Research shows that those struggling experience discrimination in all aspects of society including at work and when trying to obtain housing due to stereotypes about violence and incompetence.

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Americans have been negatively portrayed in the media as dangerous, violent, unable to control themselves, and mental illness as untreatable or unrecoverable conditions.

In reality, those with mental illness are more likely to be the victims of violence rather than the perpetrators (10 times more likely than the general population) and more than 80 percent of people who receive treatment for mental illness report significant improvement in their symptoms.

Those with a mental illness are further stigmatized by health insurance companies that refuse service or charge significantly more money for those seeking treatment for mental health disorders compared to those with physical illnesses.

Although the stigma surrounding mental health disorders has been declining over the past few decades, research shows that 56 percent of Americans would feel uncomfortable telling their friends or family if they were suffering from a mental illness. This fear is associated with the belief that people will negatively judge them for their struggles and view it as a sign of weakness.

Stigma remains one of the biggest barriers preventing people from seeking treatment or ending their silence about their condition.

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Awareness is key in breaking this barrier by educating the public about common misconceptions and promoting acceptance of those who suffer from these conditions.

To learn more about the common misconceptions of mental illness check out the video Mental Health Myths.

How Can Mental Health Awareness Help?

Benefit 1: Bring Awareness to Mental Health Symptoms

Mental health awareness initiatives help those who are suffering to understand how the symptoms of mental health disorders manifest. This allows individuals to seek treatment BEFORE their condition worsens and prevents significant disruptions to their social or work life.

When individuals recognize their symptoms and seek help early, they are more likely to:

  • Recover completely
  • Experience fewer complications
  • And live longer.

In fact, early treatment can often prevent tragic results such as alcohol abuse and suicide.

In addition, the more the general population knows about mental illness and its symptoms, the easier it is for them to identify people who may be struggling and get them the necessary care.

Educate yourself about mental health: Having better knowledge about common disorders will help you understand where others are coming from and how to interact with them in a compassionate, helpful manner.

Benefit 2: Breaks the Mental Health Stigma

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Mental health awareness initiatives aim at raising public knowledge of mental health disorders, reducing stigma and fostering positive attitudes towards seeking help.

Mental health awareness helps people understand that mental illness is NOT a character flaw but rather an illness like any other.

Research shows that when people have better knowledge about different types of mental illness, they are significantly less likely to hold discriminatory views towards those suffering from mental illnesses.

Having better knowledge about common disorders will further reduce discriminatory practices, create greater acceptance across communities and lead to people who suffer from mental illness feeling comfortable sharing their stories.

Help Break the Stigma: Insist on destigmatizing this issue in society through your everyday interactions with your friends, family members, colleagues at work and even strangers around you.

Benefit 3: Increases Mental Health Funding

Mental health awareness initiatives help to focus attention on the critical need for greater funding so that mental illness can be treated just as effectively as physical illness.

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Increasing funding for mental health care so that patients can access affordable and accessible treatment is essential in ensuring all Americans have access to the support they need.

Increased research and funding is also essential in finding improved treatments for all mental illnesses, including the common forms of depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder.

In addition, research shows that communities and states that invest in mental health services experience a return on their investment by:

  • Reducing costs associated with imprisonment for those suffering from psychiatric illness (37% of adults and 70.4% of youth)
  • Reducing hospital visits due to severe psychiatric conditions (with mood disorders being the most common cause of hospitalization for people under age 45)
  • Reducing emergency room visits related to mental illness and substance abuse (1 out of every 8 visits).
  • And mitigating the $193.2 billion of missed income each year from those suffering from serious mental disorders.

Take Action: Get engaged by donating to mental health awareness initiatives and participating in fundraisers and events. By joining in initiatives to raise awareness about this issue, you could be helping to save a life! You can donate to the Mental Health Foundation here

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Benefit 4: Improves Access to Care

When communities and states invest in mental health services, they ensure that the necessary treatment is available for those who need it. If enough people seek help, the mental health services may have to expand to meet the needs of individuals.

For example, the prevalence of common forms of mental illnesses among children and adolescents make youth one of the most important audiences for mental health programs.

This makes school settings a great place to provide education about mental health disorders as well as raise awareness about common warning signs so those struggling can seek help before their condition worsens.

Spreading awareness enables schools to identify children who need help and get them the mental health care they need.

In addition, schools can incorporate programs that promote positive mental health in students. This will enable them to build good coping strategies and resilience that they can use throughout their lives to deal with stress and other factors that may trigger a psychiatric episode.

Become an advocate: Share this information with your community, friends and family members to help create more awareness surrounding mental health issues.

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That brings us to the end of this article on mental health awareness.

Which mental health awareness fact did you find most helpful?

Consider sharing this post on your social media and with your friends to keep the conversation going.

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About the Author: Siomara Henderson – Contributor

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Siomara Henderson, MFT, is the cofounder of Clickmill.co, a digital marketing agency for nonprofits. With a master’s in marriage and family therapy, she writes information-rich content for numerous New York based therapy firms, and The Mental Health Foundation. She is also the coauthor and editor of Decoding A Man’s Body Language and The Digital Ministryand mental health and life coach to many women who are actively seeking personal growth.

In her spare time, Siomara works with women and children facing situational homelessness. She is passionate about helping others discover how great life can be when they learn to invest in their mental health. Siomara and her husband Brett live in Honolulu, Hawaii.