May Is Mental Health Month
May 23 2018 - Russell Kohl, MD, FAAFP
This article was written as guest post by Clifford Moy, MD, Behavioral Health Medical Director, TMF Health Quality Institute.
This year marks the 70th Mental Health Month, or Mental Health Awareness Month, which began in 1949 by the organization now called Mental Health America.
One in five adult Americans has a mental illness and/or a substance use disorder every year. A national poll released by the American Psychiatric Association showed 75 percent of those polled agreed that “untreated mental illness has a significant negative impact on the U.S. economy” and 86 percent agreed that “someone's mental health has an impact on their physical health.” The public’s awareness of the effects of mental illness is clear.
Unfortunately, only 45 percent of those polled agreed that the stigma of mental illness is less prevalent than it was ten years ago. The poll also saw that 71 percent agreed that lack of access to mental health treatment was fully or partially to blame for recent mass shootings in the United States.
Americans are in touch with the reach and consequences of mental illness and substance use disorders but have a rather strong preference not to accept those with mental illness and substance use disorders or to prioritize actions to prevent and treat these conditions.
Stigma, which is defined as a “mark of shame or discredit,” is major force in how our society views mental illness and substance use disorders. According to the same American Psychiatric Association poll, 31 percent of people would not vote for a candidate with a history of mental illness for elected office, even if they had received treatment. This fact leads us to believe that stigma is responsible. Would you, since we are all part of the public, view your co-workers, friends, neighbors and family with a mental illness in the same way? And if the person who has a mental illness knew you stigmatized them, would they seek support or even reveal their diagnosis?
The National Alliance on Mental Illness is conducting the CureStigma campaign. The campaign has a short stigma assessment instrument, a history of how stigma affects those who have a mental illness or substance use disorder and suggestions about how to decrease stigma. Being stigma free is not being silent. We need to support those with mental illness and substance use disorders just as we do with other conditions. The CureStigma materials are a starting point to improve the health of the population.
Readers will recognize that each of us supports people we know in their journey with mental illness because one in five of us have it. So the next time you are at the movies, a play, a concert, at church or even at a restaurant, look at two people to your left and two people to the right. Chances are that one of you has or had a mental illness. It is not a mark of shame. Let’s rid ourselves of stigma.
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