Mental Health Awareness MonthBy Kathie Miller, GHI Corporate Director of Marketing & Communications
How Aware Are You?
This year marks the 70th anniversary of Mental Health Awareness Month, always observed in the month of May and sometimes referred to as “Mental Health Month.” Mental Health America started these month-long efforts back in 1949 and today offers toolkits that organizations can use to help raise awareness and encourage everyone to care about mental health.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, “nearly one in five U.S. adults live with a mental illness,” with illnesses ranging in severity and type from mild depression or anxiety to more serious conditions such as Schizophrenia; however, only about half of those with some form of mental illness receive treatment.
Struggling with Stigma
Widely held social views can make it challenging for people to seek help when it comes to their mental health. While today’s society has progressed in terms of being willing to talk more openly about such topics, the stigma of mental illness remains an issue.
Making matters worse, the stigma can be twofold—those who experience mental illness face stigma not just from people around them, but also from themselves. Being members of a society that holds negative attitudes, we are at risk of applying those negative attitudes towards ourselves. We all might experience this throughout our lives in some ways. When it comes to mental illness, self-stigma is a particularly serious concern.
The National Center for Biotechnology Information shares research that shows internalizing negative attitudes can have a significant impact: “Self-discrimination, particularly in the form of self-isolation, has many pernicious effects leading to decreased healthcare service use, poor health outcomes, and poor quality of life.”
As with all matters related to our well-being, it is important for us to seek proper care and to engage in treatments when needed.
Difficult to Diagnose
While we all need to work to overcome the stigma associated with mental illness, both for ourselves and for others, another challenge can be confirming a diagnosis. This is especially true for adults over the age of 65.
An article published in June 2018 by U.S. News & World Report explores some of the difficulties. Doctors are less likely to ask their patients over the age of 65 questions about their mental wellbeing, seeking to understand if they feel anxious or depressed. What’s more, these patients are less likely to share these feelings. When they do report certain symptoms such as difficulty sleeping, eating or concentrating, these symptoms are often associated with other health conditions, or simply viewed as part of getting older.
The article cites Dr. Susan W. Lehmann, Director of the Geriatric Psychiatry Day Hospital Program and Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Lehmann comments: “It can be difficult to tease out depression and other mental health concerns from coexisting medical conditions or medications that might cause symptoms mimicking depression and other mental health symptoms,” Lehman says.
Talk about Treatment
Lehmann goes on to share that mental health issues are very treatable at any age. Both medications and talk therapy can be effective parts of a treatment plan. With medication, additional care must be taken for certain age groups due to changing metabolism and greater susceptibility to certain side effects. With talk therapy, it’s important to find someone with whom you can open up and discuss details of your life.
All of us can play an important role in battling stigma, making it much easier for those who might be experiencing a mental health concern to seek help. Each of us can educate ourselves more on mental illness and the impact it has on individuals as well as society. And in educating ourselves, we also can seek to improve our empathy towards anyone in our lives who might experience mental health issues.
Here are some resources that might help you further your insights and understanding of mental health:
- The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has a useful infographic that provides general mental health facts in America.
- The Mayo Clinic offers advice on how to overcome the stigma of mental illness.
- The Center for Disease Control offers a quiz you can take to see how much you know (or don’t know) about mental health.
If someone you know struggles with or shows signs of mental illness, you can take steps to help them. The National Alliance on Mental Illness, one of many trusted organizations, provides guidance and resources to support your loved one’s recovery. You – and your loved one – are not alone in the struggle.
As Corporate Director of Marketing & Communications, Kathie Miller provides strategic guidance and tactical support for all areas of the GHI organization. As part of her responsibilities, she manages The Good Life blog and newsletter. Kathie joined GHI in 2014 after nearly 15 years at NPR, where she honed her skills in brand and reputation management, content marketing and internal communications.