The holidays are ending and everyone is coming back down to reality. January is a month of new intentions, goals, and resolutions.
The month often inspires new physical health practices—gym memberships peak this time of year. Around 12% of all new gym memberships happen this month.
However, January is not only a great time to focus on physical health, but also on mental health. This month is Mental Health Month. And chances are you have experienced, are experiencing, or know someone who has or is currently experiencing mental health illness.
It’s a pervasive, important topic that deserves our attention and our active support.
The Impacts of Mental Illness
Mental illness is an issue that is pertinent to nearly all Americans because it is incredibly likely that you at least know someone experiencing with mental illness.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), approximately 1 in 5 adults in the Unites States, or 18.5% of the population, which is 43.8 million people, experience mental illness each year.
18.1% of adults in the United States have experienced an anxiety disorder such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, specific phobias, or post-traumatic stress disorder.
Mental illness does not only affect adults. Approximately 1 in 5 youth aged 13-18, or 21.4% of the youth popular, experiences a severe mental disorder at some point during their life.
Despite the pervasiveness of mental illness, the majority of people experiencing mental illness do not seek mental health services. According to NAMI, “Only 41% of adults in the U.S. with a mental health condition received mental health services in the past year.” Additionally, “African Americans and Hispanic Americans each use mental health services at about one-half the rate of Caucasian Americans and Asian Americans at about one-third the rate.”
The consequences of this lack of treatment can be severe. It is estimated that serious mental illness costs the United States approximately $193.2 billion in lost earnings per year.
But more importantly, mental illness can lead to an increased risk of chronic medical conditions. In fact, adults in the Unites States living with serious mental illness die on average 25 years earlier than those that do not—mainly due to treatable medical conditions.
However, the most serious statistic related to untreated mental illness is related to suicide. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. It is the 3rd leading cause of death for Americans between the age of 10 and 14. And the 2nd leading cause of death for Americans between the 15 and 24. Every single day, an estimated 18-22 veterans die from suicide.
The fact that so many people do not seek mental health services for their mental illness is at least in part due to the stigma that surrounds mental illness. During Mental Health Month you can be a part of the change to remove that stigma, create a conversation, and potentially save lives.
What We Can Do to Support Mental Health Month
Take the Stigma Free Pledge
Unlike other illnesses, mental illness can be shrouded in shame and stigma, which can exacerbate the illness and lead to a lack of sought treatment.
NAMI describes stigma this way: “Stigma is when someone, or even you yourself, views a person in a negative way just because they have a mental health condition. Some people describe stigma as a feeling of shame or judgment from someone else. Stigma can even come from an internal place, confusing feeling bad with being bad.”
Stigma can cause people to never seek treatment or wait a long time to seek treatment. The delay between the beginning of symptoms and seeking of treatment is on average 8-10 years!
So what can we do!? The National Alliance on Mental Illness has a stigma free pledge that you can sign! This involves a pledge to do the following:
Use respectful language to talk about mental health conditions.
Avoid using words such as “challenged”, “crazy”, “wacko”, “lunatic”, “demented”, “special”, “schizo”, and “psycho”. Avoid using terms such as normal or not normal. And also, avoid using words like “suffer” or “victim”.
Do not define someone by their illness.
For instance, instead of saying, “she’s bipolar”, try, “she has bipolar disorder” or “she is living with bipolar disorder”. Or instead of saying, “the mentally ill”, use language such as, “people with a mental health condition”.
Challenge misconceptions when you see or hear them.
Don’t be afraid to speak up! And don’t assume that those who spread misconceptions are doing so with malice—many people are simply not aware.
Ultimately, the stigma free pledge is about seeing the person and not the condition. It allows us to see that many of us are experiencing mental illness and, if you are, you are not alone.
If you know someone who you think is experiencing mental illness, reach out and offer support.
You can take the pledge today by going to https://www.nami.org/Get-Involved/Take-the-stigmafree-Pledge/StigmaFree-Me.
Share Your Story
Part of combatting the stigma that surrounds mental illness is spreading the message that those experiencing mental illness are not alone. If you have experienced or experience mental illness and feel comfortable, share your story!
Telling your story can take many different forms. You can share poetry, song lyrics, inspirational quotes, drawings, photos, or videos.
If you are seeking a safe space for sharing your story or creative expression of your experience, NAMI has two moderated places to do so: You Are Not Alone and OK2Talk.
Some questions to consider when sharing your story: What has been most helpful in your experience with mental illness? What didn’t help? What has given you the most hope? What has been discouraging?
Spread the Message
If you haven’t experienced mental illness or do not feel comfortable sharing your story, you can still spread the word! There are many infographics, videos, and testimonials online that can speak volumes to the experience of mental illness.
If you are seeking a thorough, informative infographic, check out NAMI.org.
Advocate for Your Community
Lastly, it is important to take action on advocacy issues surrounding mental illness. Changing policy is one effective way of making an impact on the lives of people experiencing mental health conditions themselves or in their families.
Advocate for people’s access to mental health treatment and services, mental health parity, and funding for further research. There are many organization both local and national that fight for these rights. One that we suggest is The National Alliance on Mental Illness. To learn more, go to www.NAMI.org.