Addressing Mental Health in Our Communities

The healthcare debate has been heated and long-lasting and for good reason. Americans are concerned about threats to their lifestyle and their lives. While discussing policies can be divisive, there is a discussion that we should be having that can receive bi-partisan support.

May is Mental Health Awareness month, and although this initiative started in 1949, not many people seem to be aware. Mental illness is often associated with a negative stigma that can keep people from discussing issues that affect community members, friends, or family.

1 in 5 American adults are diagnosed with a mental illness each year. That statistic is disheartening considering the available treatment options and the fact that more than 50% of those diagnosed do not receive treatment.

On May 2nd, the White House released a statement addressing the need to increase awareness and instill the desire to help confront the stigma.

“Addressing substance abuse, addiction, and overdose is often critical to improving mental health outcomes.  An estimated 8.1 million adults in America suffering with a mental illness also struggle with substance abuse.  Many of those who struggled with both were among the 52,000 people in our country who died from a drug overdose in 2015.  Approximately 44,000 Americans took their own lives in the past year, a preventable tragedy that frequently correlates with mental illness and substance abuse.”

So what can be done? How do we as members of the treatment community and as citizens make a difference?

Perhaps the most important role we can play is that of advocates. We should be engaging with policy makers in local, state, and federal government. Those who suffer from a mental illness can be very vulnerable and we can stand up for them and help them find their way towards the right treatment.

The White House statement continues, “No American should suffer in silence and solitude…. We must support those in need and remain committed to hope and healing.  Through compassion and committed action, we will enrich the spirit of the American people and improve the well-being of our Nation.”