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The Significance of Mental Health Month
Carrie Steckl, Ph.D.: Thu, May 10th 2012
Did you know that May is Mental Health Month? I didn't - until I received an e-newsletter from the U.S. Army outlining what it is doing to raise awareness of mental health issues among our nation's soldiers.
I was encouraged by this, but I also wondered why I had not known about Mental Health Month before then. Shouldn't this have been plastered all over the news?
Oh, wait. May is not only Mental Health Month - it's also Women's Health Month, Arthritis Awareness Month, Hepatitis Awareness Month, Lupus Awareness Month, and National Physical Fitness and Sports Month, among others.
And let's not forget that it's National Mediterranean Diet Month, too. I'm not kidding.
I'm not saying that any of these issues is unimportant. I'm saying that it's hard for a cause to gain traction when there are dozens, sometimes hundreds, of other causes trying to gain traction at the same time. The public becomes overwhelmed with information about awareness events until the significance of any one event seems tepid, at best.
And yet, I think Mental Health Month is worth fighting for. Here's why:
- According to Mental Health America, one in four American adults lives with a diagnosable, treatable mental health condition. One in four! That's a cornucopia of people who need help but may not realize it is available. That's why one of Mental Health America's themes this month is "Do More for 1 in 4" in order to motivate people to reach out to those whom they know need help.
- Mental health disorders are the top cause of disability in the United States. This means there are both ethical and financial imperatives to address mental health issues. Helping those with mental health problems get the treatment they need can improve quality of life for individuals and communities as well as reduce the financial impact of mental health problems on the workforce.
- An alarming increase in mental health problems among our nation's military prompted Mental Health America to promote a second theme this month: "Healing Trauma's Invisible Wounds." This theme is timely considering the weakening support for the war in Afghanistan, which may result in less public concern for the military personnel who have served there and experienced significant trauma. They cannot be forgotten.
- Mental health disorders are among the last disorders and illnesses to still be squelched under stigma. We can talk about Alzheimer's and HIV/AIDS now without the worry of being hushed or tabooed. But mental health problems are still seen by too many as character flaws, personal weaknesses, and minor spells with easy fixes. This must change.
Am I wrong? Is Mental Health Awareness Month just another month among the many others we learn about in the news if we are lucky enough to see it? Or is it something worth fighting for?
And if you are really gung-ho about National Mediterranean Diet Month (and I do respect the diet's healthy principles), at least talk to your eating partner about the importance of addressing mental health issues while you dine on your fish and red wine.