In the United States, the month of May is a nationally recognized time to raise awareness of mental health conditions in our nation. 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 wellbeing. 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.
Mental Health America has announced that this year’s theme is Fitness #4Mind4Body. 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.
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 is one of the major ways that individuals can can make a difference in the lives of people living with mental health conditions, as well as their families and communities.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness, (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, book stores 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
Fortunately, in recent years the mental health of kids and teens 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 dropout 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 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, 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.