May is Mental Health Awareness Month. This is a perfect time to address mental health and our responses to it.
For much of my life, I knew little about mental health, and I bet I’m not the only one. When I was young, a book or movie might mention a mental illness, but I didn’t understand the different kinds or how many people had them. And I didn’t hear about treatments for mental illnesses beyond the occasional joke about Prozac. Even later, when I saw that members of my family had mental illnesses and I had my first bouts of depression, I didn’t know how to take care of my mental health. Now I know more.
I’ve learned that many of us are dealing with this. Roughly one in five American adults experience mental illness in a given year, and approximately one in five American youth experience a severe mental health disorder in their lifetime. Sixteen million adults had at least one major depressive episode in the past year. (See sources for these and other stats at https://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-By-the-Numbers.)With so many people affected by these illnesses, why don’t we hear more about them?
In one word: stigma. People are afraid to speak about these illnesses because others might think bad things about them. We have thoughts like “People will think I’m crazy,” or “People will judge my family if I tell them about my sibling’s illness.” This stigma is keeping people from speaking up about an important part of their health, and from getting help.
We don’t hesitate to tell others when we have heart disease or asthma or any number of physical health problems. We need to be able to do the same thing with mental illness. And, like people with other illnesses, most individuals experiencing mental illnesses live average, productive lives with professional help.
Want to learn more about mental health, get help for your own, or deal with a family member’s illness? NAMI (the National Alliance on Mental Illness) is a great place to start. I took the Family to Family class, and recommend it highly. Check out their website at https://www.nami.org.