In 1909, along with philosopher William James and psychiatrist Adolf Meyer, Clifford W. Beers founded the Connecticut Society for Mental Hygiene, now recognized as the organization Mental Health America. His autobiography garnered national attention and brought to light the need to overhaul the standards of care for individuals living with mental health concerns and to identify ways to prevent illness and promote mental health. In 1949, Mental Health Awareness Month began.
Mental Health America advocates for legislation with the goal of creating parity in health insurance coverage for mental health care. In addition, it publishes guidance on the implementation of public health screening, intervention and recovery programming to improve behavioral health services. Each year, the organization chooses a theme for Mental Health Awareness Month. The 2021 downloadable resource is available here and entitled Tools 2 Thrive, with a focus on finding healthy ways to cope with stress.
Mental health diagnoses and concerns are common
- Each year, 1 in 5 adults experiences mental illness
- Each year, 1 in 20 adults experiences serious mental illness
- Each year, 1 in 6 youth aged 6-17 experiences a mental health disorder
- 50% of all lifetime mental illness begins by age 14, and 75% by age 24
- Suicide is the second leading cause of death among people aged 10-34
The history of mental health treatment and the stigma that follows
Specious portrayals and misunderstanding of mental illness promote the stigma surrounding it, thereby encouraging negative impressions of those with mental illness.
Researchers have established three separate definitions of stigma:
- Public stigma: bias and cynical views toward mental illness
- Self-stigma: personal shame and contempt people with mental illness feel toward their situation
- Institutional stigma: inhibiting or excluding, whether willfully or unwillfully, those with mental illness from engaging in private or government-run programs and organizations
Almost 9 out of 10 persons with a mental disorder feel stereotyped, stigmatized, and discriminated against due to having a diagnosis. A recent survey reports that only 24-26% of adults believe that people are sympathetic to those diagnosed with mental illness.
Some of the effects of stigma can include:
- internalization of negative beliefs
- social isolation
- low self-esteem
- avoiding treatment
- worsening symptoms
- lack of criminal justice
- discrimination at work
COVID-19 exacerbated mental health struggles
Mental health issues have risen exponentially due to the pandemic, with anxiety and depression reaching their highest national levels ever. Mental Health America reports the staggering statistics collected from its online mental health screening data:
- In the first nine months of the pandemic, the percentage of those screened for symptoms of anxiety rose 634% from January 2020 and depression rose 873%.
- Of 1,560, 288 screening participants, almost 180,000 reported thoughts of suicide nearly every day throughout the pandemic.
- From January to September 2020, close to 78,000 11-17-year-olds reported frequent suicidal thoughts.
- Between April and September 2020, 70% of people identified loneliness and isolation as the strongest contributors to mental health symptoms.
Drug overdoses also grew exponentially during the pandemic. An article from The Commonwealth Fund shows that February through May 2020 saw 9,000 overdose deaths a month, 2,700 more than had ever been recorded in a single month. While totals are due out later this year, the number of U.S. overdose deaths is expected to surpass 90,000, up from 70,630 deaths in 2019, the highest percentage increase since 2000.
Mental Health Relief Efforts
Due to the increase in mental health and substance abuse cases exacerbated by the pandemic, proposed relief may be on the way, including 2.5 billion in mental health funding nationwide. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration plans to provide mental health services in communities across the U.S., with $825M earmarked for current needs and improving treatment services for those suffering from acute mental health issues, and $1.65B will support the prevention and treatment of substance use disorder. Funding is just one part of the solution for addressing the pandemic’s impact on the nation’s mental health.
Support recovery from mental health concerns
- Openly discuss mental health topics at home and in the workplace
- Take a stress or mental health inventory–a self-report questionnaire for measuring one’s mental health–to determine if you are at risk
- Know and share information about the signs of depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation
- Volunteer with mental health support organizations
- Ask your loved ones about your mental health history
As Mental Health Awareness Month comes to a close, help reduce stigma by continuing to seek information on mental illness and engage in effective self care. You can also visit Mental Health America for tips on how to take care of your mental health.
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