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May is Mental Health Awareness Month. As someone who has been diagnosed with depression and anxiety, I have experienced the stigma that comes along with having a mental illness first hand. Those in the mental health community fight a constant battle against that stigma and also to raise awareness and advocate for effective mental healthcare. Would you like to join the fight to spread the word about mental illness and the impact that it has on many members of our community, but feel at a lose as to where to start?
Here’s some things to try, whether you struggle with mental illness yourself or are simply looking to support those that do:
Learn more about mental illness
There are a lot of misconceptions and plain untruths floating around about mental illness and what it means to be diagnosed with one. The first step to being able to raise awareness about mental illness is to get the facts straight. Here are some truths about mental illness from the National Alliance for Mental Illness:
- 1 out of 5 Americans will experience a mental illness this year.
- 16 million adults in the US have experienced at least one major depressive episode in the last year.
- 41% of adults with a mental health condition received mental health services in the last year.
- 41,000 individuals die each year from suicide.
- “Depression is more than just feeling sad or going through a rough patch.”
- “Medications can play an important part of a treatment plan. In some cases, medication can reduce symptoms so that other methods of a treatment plan can be more effective. For example, a medication may alleviate some significant symptoms of major depression and then talk therapy can help you change negative patterns of thinking.”
The NAMI Website’s “Learn More” tab is an excellent place to educate yourself about statistics, different mental illnesses, and treatment options.
Everyone experiences mental illness a little differently, so reading mental illness stories is another way to gain insight into what it is like to live with a mental illness. All the nonprofits listed below have a section where others share their personal mental health stories.
Reading mental health memoirs is another way to further understand what it is like to live with mental illness. I recommend Prozac Nation by Elizabeth Wurtzel. Another good read is The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath, which although it is a novel, is semi-autobiographical and based on Plath’s on experiences with depression. If you are looking for a selection that isn’t as dark as these two, you might want to try Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson.
Share and Educate for Mental Health Awareness
Do you have a social media account? May is the perfect month to raise awareness through your posts. NAMI has even created posts especially for Facebook and Twitter that make posting your support a snap. Here’s two examples of posts they’ve created leading back to resources on their site. Visit their site for more.
Did you know that 1 in 5 are affected by a mental health condition? This #MentalHealthMonth, get involved. www.nami.org/mhm
May is #MentalHealthMonth and I’m proud to be #IntoMentalHealth! I challenge you to join me by pledging to be #StigmaFree. www.nami.org/stigmafree
Do you have a story about mental illness to share? I know that not everyone is comfortable sharing about their mental illness in a public forum. But if you are, there are ways to do so, even anonymously. All the nonprofits below have either forums or blogs that accept submissions of personal stories (and in more then just essay form) that can serve to inspire others diagnosed with mental illness. Here is how some of the bloggers I read have shared about their own struggles with mental illness:
Chelsea of the new wifestyle- “my war with anxiety”
Keating Bartlett- “Living with Depression and Anxiety”
Lauren of What is Perfection- “The Real Deal: My Mental Illness”
Support Nonprofits for Mental Health Awareness
These are five nonprofits working for advocacy, awareness, and treatment of those with mental illnesses. They are all national organizations, but you might have a local branch of NAMI or another locally based mental health nonprofit serving people in your city to get involved with. Donating straight to these organizations is an option, as is volunteering your time at local branches and events or remotely.
NAMI– The National Association on Mental Illness is my go to resource for all things mental illness related. They offer programs and support groups for those diagnosed with mental illness and their families at locations across the country, as I listed in my post featuring free or inexpensive services for those with mental illness. They are a leader in providing accurate information about mental illness and raising awareness about all types of mental illness.
MHA– Mental Health America also offers a number of services for those suffering from mental illness, especially those in vulnerable populations such as the homeless and children. Local branches provide very practical services such as peer support, case management, and residential services for those with severe mental illness.
Project Semicolon– Started by a young woman who sadly lost her battle with depression recently, this nonprofit is focused on raising awareness about suicide, through the symbol of the semicolon. The semicolon represents that your story isn’t over yet. It educates and raises awareness about mental illness and suicide prevention, especially for young people. Here’s a collection of stories from some of them.
This is My Brave– This nonprofit raises awareness by putting on shows across the country featuring those who have suffered from mental illness telling their stories through personal essays, poetry, and music. Their desire is to both encourage and create community by breaking the stigma of mental illness. They believe that storytelling can save lives.
To Write Love On Her Arms– This nonprofit was created to offer hope for those struggling with depression, self-injury, addiction, and suicide. They travel the US to provide resources at music festivals, provide thousands of suicide prevention packs to organizations across the world, answer thousands of messages from those struggling, and allow those in recovery the opportunity to share their stories with others through their blog. The story surrounding the start of this nonprofit has even been made into a movie starring Kat Dennings and Chad Michael Murray.
Advocate for Mental Health Awareness
The way laws and policy are written in the US have a direct impact on the mental health treatment that individuals are receiving every day. The mental health community, including Mental Health America, has been working for decades to develop policy recommendations that will help prevent, diagnosis, and offer adequate treatment for mental illness.
The most pressing piece of legislation is the Health Care Reform bill that is currently in Congress. This bill could prove devastating for a number of people in our country, including those with mental illness. The proposed bill could lead to insurance companies:
- No longer covering mental health and substance abuse treatment as essential health benefits.
- Being able to charge more for those suffering from mental illness (a preexisting condition) or not covering any treatment for mental illness.
- Denying coverage completely to those with mental health conditions.
The bill hasn’t been voted for yet in the Senate, so please consider contacting your elected senators and expressing your concern about the potential consequences of the new health care reform. Calling or visiting your senator’s office is a possibility, as is expressing disagreement with the bill through an email. The NAMI website has made sending that email easy. By signing up for their action center, you can submit a pre-written message to your elected official.
What are you doing for Mental Health Awareness Month?