May is Mental Health Month
Do you know when is mental health month? In the United States, the month of May is a nationally recognized time to raise awareness of mental health conditions in our nation. So then, what is mental health month exactly? When most people think of health, they think of diet, exercise, disease, and other physical signs of a healthy body. However, many still fail to recognize the importance of mental health when it comes to our overall well-being. Every year, about 42.5 million American adults (or 18.2 percent of the total adult population in the United States) suffers from some type of mental illness. Because of this, Mental Health Month draws attention to the aspects of mental wellness that are too often overlooked.
National Mental Health Awareness Month was established in 1949, by the National Association for Mental Health (currently known as Mental Health America). What began as only a week of observance to shed light on the prevalence of mental illness, would eventually expand into a nationally recognized month of education and advocacy. During the month of May, various mental health organizations seek to accomplish these goals through screenings, community events, workshops, fundraisers, counseling, social media campaigns, and so much more. All of the activities are centered around a core theme. Some of the past themes from recent years include:
Pathways to Wellness (2013), which focused on practical strategies to achieve overall mental and physical wellbeing.
Mind Your Health (2014), which sought to emphasize the association between mind and body, while advocating for widespread awareness of both individual and public mental and physical health.
B4Stage4 (2015), which addressed the importance of the early detection of mental health issues, knowing the warning signs, discovering possible underlying diseases, and creating an action plan to achieve wellness.
Mental Illness Feels Like (2016), a theme that was primarily driven by a social media campaign, seeking to promote awareness and understanding while eliminating stigmas surrounding mental health. Individuals were encouraged to share what living with a mental illness feels like, by posting on social media and using the hashtag #mentalillnessfeelslike. Today, there are 10.3k posts on Instagram using this hashtag, and far more on Facebook and Twitter.
Risky Business (2017), which sought to educate the general public about short-term behaviors and long-term habits that can be harmful to one’s mental health. Prescription drug misuse, unsafe sexual activities, marijuana (THC) use, gambling, excessive spending, social media addiction, binge drinking, and other risky behaviors can increase the likelihood of developing a mental illness, making one worse, or could signify physical and mental health problems themselves.
Fitness #4Mind4Body (2018)
Mental Health America has announced that this year’s theme is Fitness #4Mind4Body. The goal is to focus on what individuals can do to be “fit for our own futures.” Particular emphasis is being placed on starting where you are at, no matter what stage of wellness or life you are in, and recognizing the early warning signs before a mental illness reaches “Stage 4.” Mental Health America describes the concept of Stage 4 in this way:
“When we think about cancer, heart disease, or diabetes, we don’t wait years to treat them. We start way before Stage 4. We begin with prevention. And when people are in the first stage of those diseases and have a persistent cough, high blood pressure, or high blood sugar, we try immediately to reverse these symptoms.
This is what we should be doing when people have serious mental illnesses, too. When they first begin to experience symptoms such as loss of sleep, feeling tired for no reason, feeling low, feeling anxious, or hearing voices, we should act.”
The Fitness #4Mind4Body campaign encourages others to share what they are doing for their own physical and mental fitness, by sharing their progress on social media using the hashtag #4Mind4Body. This year’s toolkit from Mental Health America, which can be utilized by individuals, groups, and organizations, includes:
- Fact sheets on how mental health is affected by diet and nutrition, sleep, stress, gut health, and exercise;
- Worksheets on making life changes;
- A promotional poster, sample social media posts with images, and web banners;
- A sample press release and a drop-In article; and
- A sample proclamation for public officials to recognize May is Mental Health Month and the work of local mental health advocates.
How Can I Get Involved?
Overall, Mental Health Month is a great time for deeper reflection and discussion of these issues. There are a wide variety of ways to get involved in raising awareness and promoting mental health!
Care For Yourself
Firstly, take some time to assess and strengthen your own mental health. This can be done through screenings, self-care, or education. While most people have an inclination to give and help others, you can’t pour from an empty cup! Make sure you are filling your mind and body with what you need to be healthy, first.
Reach Out To Your Community
Talk with your family, friends, co-workers, and neighbors about mental health. Downloading this year’s Mental Health Month toolkit is a great way to gain access to helpful activities and resources to raise awareness and promote mental wellbeing. Also, involve your faith community, local schools, community clubs, and organizations, or other groups in your neighborhood to partner in raising awareness, support, and recovery resources for those who are experiencing a mental health crisis. You can also connect with local businesses to raise funds and support for organizations who are already serving those with mental health disorders.
Encourage your local government and community leaders to take a stand and publicly recognize National Mental Health Awareness Month. Ask them to “Go Green” to show support and raise awareness for mental health (as green is the color of the mental health awareness ribbon). You can also take action on advocacy issues, and lobby for policy change. Changes in policy are one of the major ways that individuals can make a difference in the lives of people living with mental health conditions, as well as their families and communities.
NAMI also offers other creative suggestions on how to get involved with Mental Health Month, such as:
- Handing out ribbons. Hand out or sell green ribbons for people to wear. Invite stores to hang green ribbons in the window, on trees, light posts, columns and in other public spaces.
- Creating a book display. Ask the local bookstore to feature books about mental health or have an author come in and sign copies.
- Sharing information. Ask about adding mental health awareness brochures or fact sheets and infographics to your local coffee house’s events and information boards.
- Hosting an event. Local businesses, such as coffee shops, bookstores or restaurants often reserve time and space for members of the public to put on an art exhibit, play, poetry reading or concert. Create one featuring material about mental health or artists with connections to mental health.
Kids and Mental Health
Here at Children’s Bureau, we are especially concerned with advocating for the mental health of children and young adults. Fortunately, in recent years this topic has gained increased attention. Research has shown that 1 in 5 children ages 13-18 have, or will have a serious mental illness before they reach adulthood. Of these children:
- 11% of youth have a mood disorder
- 10% of youth have a behavior or conduct disorder, and
- 8% of youth have an anxiety disorder
The prevalence of mental illness among our youth is widespread, and its consequences also have the potential to be long-lasting. 50% of all lifetime cases of mental illness begin by age 14 and 75% by age 24.1. Approximately 50% of students age 14 and older with a mental illness drop out of high school, and 70% of youth in state and local juvenile justice systems have a mental illness. Additionally, while suicide is the third leading cause of death among youth ages 10 to 24, a striking 90% of those who died by suicide had underlying mental illnesses.
Know the Signs
Unfortunately, because the average delay between onset of symptoms and intervention is 8-10 years, mental illnesses among children often go undetected until it is too late. However, learning how to recognize the signs of an emerging mental health condition or crisis can make the difference between life and death for the youth around us. NAMI, The National Alliance on Mental Illness, published some of the most common warning signs among children and youth. These include, but are not limited to:
- Severe mood swings that cause problems in relationships.
- Repeated use of drugs or alcohol.
- Drastic changes in behavior, personality or sleeping habits (e.g., waking up early and acting agitated).
- Extreme difficulty in concentrating or staying still that can lead to failure in school.
- Intense worries or fears that get in the way of daily activities like hanging out with friends or going to classes.
- Trying to harm or kill oneself or making plans to do so.
- Out-of-control, risk-taking behaviors that can cause harm to self or others.
- Sudden overwhelming fear for no reason, sometimes with a racing heart, physical discomfort or fast breathing.
- Not eating, throwing up or using laxatives, lose weight; significant weight loss or gain.
- Feeling very sad or withdrawn for more than two weeks (e.g., crying regularly, feeling fatigued, feeling unmotivated).
What Can Parents Do to Help Their Kids?
NAMI also encourages parents and other involved adults to seek help right away if they suspect that a child or teenager they love may be experiencing an urgent mental health crisis. It is important to do something, whether that is seeking emergency services, talking to your child’s pediatrician, obtaining a referral to a mental health specialist, working with your teenager’s school, implementing breathing exercises for kids, or connecting with other families who are experiencing similar situations. However, whether you believe that your child is developing a mental illness or not, it is so important to talk to them about mental health. Make sure your children and teens know that they can talk to you about anything, about nothing, and about everything. They need to know that they can come to you if they feel that their mental health is suffering. Be present, be involved, be available.
How Can Children’s Bureau Help?
Children’s Bureau is geared toward helping young children and their families find ways to decrease potential outbursts and violence in the home and to meet their mental health needs. Children’s Bureau provides a wide range of counseling for kids and child mental health services including:
- a comprehensive assessment,
- child abuse therapy,
- family-focused therapy,
- individual counseling, and
- group therapy.
Also, intensive day treatment for young children, medication management, case management assistance, therapeutic behavioral health services, as well as assistance to the significant caretakers and support person(s) in the child’s life are all offered at our mental health counseling center.
Our counseling for children is culturally sensitive with a substantial focus on the Latino community. All treatment is customized to meet the specific needs of both the child and their family, so services are provided in the home, school, office or community. Overall, the Children’s Bureau therapists utilize a family system approach that engages the caregiver as a partner in problem-solving.
Overall, we believe that if we understand the prevalence of mental illness and learn to recognize the warning signs, we can work together to implement an action plan for wellness before Stage 4. By uniting community members, organizations, businesses, churches, neighbors, schools, families, and friends, Mental Health Month can continue to be effective in bringing light to mental health conditions.
This May, whether you are putting up green ribbons, hosting a bake sale, writing letters to your assemblymen, or sitting down and talking with your family at the dinner table, you are making a difference.