This May, we are marking the observance of National Mental Health Awareness Month with a series of blogs. This is the first.
As First Lady Michelle Obama said recently at the launch of the Campaign to Change Direction, now is the time for us to “flip the script on mental illness.” She continued:
It’s time to tell everyone dealing with a mental health issue that they are not alone, and that getting support isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength.The Importance and the Opportunity
It is more important than ever for all Americans to know that behavioral health is essential to health, prevention works, treatment is effective, and people recover. Today, adults with mental illnesses and children and adolescents with emotional disturbances have improved access to care. With the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, the percentage of Americans who do not have health coverage has dropped sharply over the past 2 years, from 18 percent to under 13 percent, and lower-income individuals and minorities have especially benefitted. Further, states are devoting significant resources to support early interventions for people recently diagnosed with serious mental illnesses. With access to treatment, people have hope for recovery.
National Mental Health Awareness Month gives us all the opportunity to combat the negative attitudes, prejudice, and discrimination that prevent people from accessing treatment and supports and isolate people from their communities. A recent study found that 69 percent of adults experiencing psychological distress would hide mental health problems from co-workers and classmates, and 38 percent would even hide their problems from their friends and family. Significantly, 21 percent said that they would delay getting treatment out of fear that others would find out. By raising awareness, we can increase the percentage of people who are willing to seek the help they need.
President Obama noted the importance of this mission when he spoke at the White House National Conference on Mental Health. He said:
Too many Americans who struggle with mental health illnesses are still suffering in silence rather than seeking help, and we need to see it that men and women who would never hesitate to go see a doctor if they had a broken arm or came down with the flu, that they have that same attitude when it comes to their mental health.
The President went even further, saying, “recovery is possible,” and noting that most people with mental illnesses who receive treatment, help, and support go on to lead happy and productive lives. President Obama acknowledged the power of support from peers, family members, and caregivers as one of the key elements of recovery. He reached out to those recovering from mental and substance use disorders and said, “You are not alone. You are surrounded by people who care about you and who will support you on the journey to get well.”
At SAMHSA, we are working to promote the mental health of all Americans and to ensure that adults with serious mental illnesses and children and adolescents with serious emotional disturbances are getting the services and supports that they need to live full and productive lives in the community, without fear or shame of getting the help they need to achieve recovery.
I invite you to celebrate the 10th anniversary of National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day on May 7 by spreading the message that positive mental health is an important part of children’s healthy development from birth. Events are planned nationwide to call attention to the need for high- quality services and supports in communities and in schools.
This May, I’d like to challenge all Americans to use this month as an opportunity to reach out and help a family member, friend, or neighbor, or to find the courage to seek help and support. SAMHSA offers educational materials through numerous programs and campaigns. Together, we can help build strong, mentally healthy communities. This is every person’s birthright, and we can help make it happen.