Mental Health Awareness Month

by Norman Winegar, on May 18, 2020 2:51:00 PM


May is national Mental Health Awareness Month. It's an opportunity for Americans to become more aware of how important good mental health is to us as individuals and to our society overall. Let’s think of this in a slightly different way. What if May is Happiness Awareness Month? Now do I have your attention? Good, because mental health and personal happiness and wellbeing are connected. Personal investments in our mental health pay personal happiness dividends, while investments in mental health by employers, colleges and public policy makers pay societal dividends.  

Let’s discuss a few basics about mental health. 

First, it’s a part of all of us. Mental health is a term that includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act as we cope with life and its age-old companion, “stress”. Importantly, it also helps determine how we handle these inevitable stresses, how we relate you our families, friends, co-workers, neighbors, classmates and others,  how we make choices, how productive we are academically and in our occupations and professions as we strive to reach our full potential. Mental health is vitally important at every stage of life, from childhood to old age.

Second, while mental health is not an illness condition, mental disorders are. They are common, affecting about 1 in 5 Americans annually, while nearly 3 out of 4 adults report at least one stress-related symptom (like stress induced headaches or feelings of being overwhelmed or of being very lonely). They can also be serious conditions that affect our mood, distort our thinking and change our behavior. They can be influenced by our particular life circumstances- like growing up in poverty or being a survivor of childhood trauma or intimate partner violence or experiencing unexpected life events like a divorce or sudden job loss. They affect all ages, genders, races and socio-economic groups. Only a narcissist thinks themselves invulnerable. And that’s a condition too!

Thirdly, poor mental has many negative consequences for individuals, economies and societies. One is the impact on our physical health. Poor mental health increases one’s risk for Cancer, Heart ailments, Strokes, Diabetes and many other conditions. These are costly conditions to treat and often diminish one’s happiness and quality of life. One condition, Major Depression is highly associated with suicide, the second leading cause of death among young people. More Americans commit suicide each year than all who die in motor vehicle accidents or by gun violence. Mental Health conditions also often co-occur with medical conditions. The mental health condition frequently complicates treatment plans and compliance with medical treatment. The costs of medical treatment for patients with both serious mental health and physical conditions is 2 to 3 times higher than those without co-occurring conditions. Aside from the human suffering, these financial costs are borne by individuals through high out-of-pocket expenses and higher healthcare insurance rates, by employers who provide healthcare benefits to employees and pay taxes, and by taxpayers who pay for Medicaid and Medicare benefits. There is a myriad of other consequences of poor mental health. They negative impacts on one’s livelihood or business, on our academic achievements, and on our ability to be productive member of society.

Back to Happiness… there is a lot of good news even in this time of the COVID-19 pandemic. There are many things we can each do to promote and sustain our mental health and that of our children and loved ones. These include making time for regular exercise (this is a great stress reduction tool), practicing mindfulness and gratitude, making sure to make time to enjoy relaxation, hobbies or activities, stay connected to friends and social and spiritual groups, and moderate your exposure to media and the 24/7 news cycle. 

For those experiencing emotional distress, there is also a great deal of good news. Modern evidence-based treatments have never been more effective and available than today. Resources such as a healthcare provider, primary care doctor or mental health therapist can provide consultation and treatment. Employee Assistance Programs and hotlines help connect people to the right treatment resources. Self Help and Support groups of various kinds, as well on-line resources and helpful mental health apps have proliferated. Many businesses, like Kaiser Permanente for instance, are taking a lead in promoting good mental health practices in the workplace and in normalizing discussions of mental health just as happens with physical health. School systems have adopted anti-bullying initiatives. Colleges provide Student Assistance Programs to support student health and address the crisis of suicide in young adults. The list goes on and on. But more awareness and sensitivity to mental health issues is needed and Mental Health Awareness Month is a great step toward that goal.

If you know someone that is struggling with stress, depression or anxiety, be aware that you may be their best resource. You do not have to be a mental health professional nor offer solutions. Just be a trusted listener who first asks, “How are you doing, and can we talk about it”? Your supportive question and compassionate listening may well help that person take their first step to getting the help they need.

Here is a partial list of the many free resources or sources of more information about Mental Health.


Topics:Professional DevelopmentHealth and Wellness

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