Continuing a National Conversation about Mental Health
May was National Mental Health Awareness Month, a month dedicated to the education and empowerment of individuals who live with mental health conditions. It’s great a whole month is devoted to mental health, but it is important to continue the conversation about mental health for the other 11 months. Why? One month is not going to eliminate the pervasive stigma that still surrounds mental health. While we have made advances in the mental health community, overwhelmingly we don’t feel comfortable talking about our mental health status at work, with a loved one or even with our doctors.
As a mental health advocate, I have never disclosed my mental health status to an employer. I openly talk about my anxiety and panic to my partner, family, friends and strangers on the internet, but talking about it at work is something I am not comfortable with due to the stigma and lack of understanding I’ve experienced in the workplace. I want to live in a world where I can call out from work and say, “I’ve had a panic attack and need the day off,” rather than fibbing and saying, “I have a migraine and won’t be able to come in today.”
For those living with mental health conditions, disclosing your mental health status can be extremely vulnerable and scary. Medical professionals have labeled us by only our condition, devaluing our diverse identities which further perpetuates the stigma. It’s no wonder people don’t want to disclose as many of us have received less than humane responses when we do open up about our mental health.
Here are some mental health statistics that really help us to comprehend the serious need for the destigmatization of mental health issues.
- Approximately 1 in 5 adults in the U.S.—43.8 million, or 18.5%—experiences mental illness in a given year.
- Approximately 1 in 25 adults in the U.S.—10 million, or 4.2%—experiences a serious mental illness in a given year that substantially interferes with or limits one or more major life activities.
- LGBTQ youth are 4 times more likely and questioning youth are 3 times more likely to attempt suicide, experience suicidal thoughts or engage in self-harm than straight people.
- Between 38-65% of transgender individuals experience suicidal ideation.
- An estimated 20-30% of LGBT people abuse substances, compared to about 9% of the general population.
- 25% of LGBT people abuse alcohol, compared to 5-10% of the general population.
Do these statistics on mental health make you angry? Do you want to do something to help? Here are a few ways you can help destigmatize conversations about mental health and continue the conversation about mental health.
- Educate yourself. Learn about different mental health conditions by visiting the psychology section at your library or doing some research online. If you know someone in your life who is open about their mental health status, reach out and learn their story. It’s an empowering experience for you and your friend!
- Volunteer. Volunteer your time at a local mental health organization or helpline in your area. Most organizations require a weekend training, and it is a positive way to connect with others and learn more about mental health.
- Share your story. I was ashamed of my anxiety for the first few years I experienced it. The only people who knew where my mom, dad and sister. Whenever I had panic attacks, I would blame it on a heart condition and go home, but all the while, it was anxiety. After starting my recovery process, I connected with others who shared their mental health stories — it was empowering to know I was not the only one.
- Shut down stigma. “I have to color-coordinate my clothes. I have OCD.” You’ve heard this line, or some variation of it, used in movies or by a friend or family member. Someone with OCD would not say this, as it is a total oversimplification of their complex mental illness. So, call it out when someone says something insensitive or stigmatizing when it comes to mental health. We ingrain so much stigma around mental health that sometimes we don’t know we are perpetuating stigma.
- Be a friend. If you know, someone is struggling and going through a tough time, reach out and offer a listening ear. Often, individuals with mental health conditions feel alone and isolated. Remember not to make assumptions or attempt to diagnose your friend’s mental health status, as that is something they can discuss with a doctor and share with you if they choose to do so.
Learning and talking about mental health conditions will only help to destigmatize mental health. And don’t we all want to be happy, live fulfilling lives free from shame and stigma?
Are you working to continue the conversation about mental health? If so, let us know what you are doing in the comments!