May Is Mental Health Awareness Month

May 2018 marks the 69th Mental Health Awareness Month. The promotion has been sponsored by Mental Health America and their affiliates since 1949. The purpose of the campaign is to make millions of Americans more aware of issues related to their mental health.

Established in 1909 and now located in Alexandria, Virginia, Mental Health America (MHA) is a non-profit organization that is dedicated to assisting people who are living with mental illness and promotes issues related to mental health.  The organization offers prevention and other kinds of services, early identification and intervention, integrated care, and support. MHA acts upon the principle that mental health problems should be treated long before they reach the critical point and uses the month of May every year to promote it.

Highlights of the MHA’s history include:

  • • Creation of child guidance clinics in the United States to assist in preventing, early intervention, and treatment of mental health issues for children in 1910.
  • • Drafting a mental ‘hygiene’ program in 1917 at the request of the Surgeon General of the United States that was adopted by the U.S. Army and Navy in preparation to World War I.
  • • Drafting model commitment laws that were later incorporated into the statutes of several states in 1920.
  • • Lobbying Congress to pass the “National Mental Health Act” that established the National Institute of Mental Health in 1946.
  • • Launching Mental Health Week, which eventually became Mental Health Month with the Jaycees to educate Americans about mental illness in 1949.
  • • Lobbying Congress to pass the ‘Community Mental Health Centers Act’ authorizing construction grants for community mental health centers in 1963.
  • • Getting Congress to include mental health services in Medicare in 1966.
  • • Encouraging President Jimmy Carter to establish the President’s Commission on Mental Health in 1977, the first comprehensive survey of mental healthcare since the 1950s. Many Mental Health America volunteers were named to the commission and task forces.
  • • Launching the National Public Education Campaign on Clinical Depression in 1993.
  • • Advocating for a U.S. Supreme Court ruling declaring the death penalty for juvenile offenders unconstitutional in 2005.

Why Is Mental Health Awareness Month So Important?

Another major player in this year’s campaign is the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), a grassroots organization with the purpose of improving the lives of millions of Americans who are victims of mental illness.  Located in Arlington, Virginia, NAMI educates the public about mental illness, is an advocate for national public policy to help the mentally ill, and organizes public awareness events and activities to combat the stigma of mental illness.

According to NAMI, mental health is a major concern in the United States. Consider this: one in five Americans lives with a mental health condition. Moreover, the stigma of mental health in our society compounds the problem.  It causes those people who should seek help to be enveloped with shame, fear and silence and causes them not to pursue the help they need.  The purpose of NAMI’s involvement in Mental Health Awareness Month is to break the stigma and assist the mentally ill to resist their fears and seek assistance.

NAMI noted that there are millions of Americans who suffer some form of mental illness. In addition, there are major consequences for people who suffer a mental illness, but don’t seek treatment.

  • • Serious mental illness costs the United States $193.2 billion in lost earnings per year.
  • • Depression, dysthymic disorder, bipolar disorder and other mood conditions are the third most common cause of hospitalization in the United States for people between the ages of 18 and 44.
  • • A person who suffers with serious mental illness has an increase risk of having chronic medical conditions.
  • • Adults in the United States living with serious mental illness die on average 25 years sooner than others largely due to treatable medical conditions.
  • • Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the United States, the third leading cause of death for people who are 10-14 years old, and the second leading cause of death for people who are 15 to 24 years old.
  • • More than 90% of children who die due to suicide have a mental illness.
  • • About 43.8 million adults in the United States or 18.5% of the population suffer mental illness per year.
  • • About 9.8 million adults in the United States or 4% of the population are victims of serious mental illness that adversely affects one or more major life activities.
  • • 21.4% of the U.S. population suffers a severe mental disorder some time during their life.
  • • About 16 million adults in the U.S. suffered at least one major depressive episode in the past year.
  • • 18.1% of the adult population in the U.S. has experienced an anxiety disorder.
  • • 50.6% of children age 8 to 15 years old in the U.S. received mental health services the previous year.
  • • Half of all chronic mental illness begins by age 14 and three-quarters by age 24.
  • • There are delays of as much as decades between the first appearance of symptoms of a mental illness and when people seek help.

Mental Health Awareness Month 2018

This year Mental Health America and its affiliates will focus on “Fitness 4Mind4Body” detailing subjects that include:

  • • Diet and Nutrition
  • • Exercise
  • • The Gut-Brain Connection
  • • Sleep
  • • Stress

The organization notes that a good diet promotes good mental health. According to MHA, a healthy diet includes vegetables. Fruits, lentils, chickpeas, beans, fish, rice, quinoa, oats, bread, and other whole grains, nuts, avocadoes and olive oil.

MHA also claims that people who eat a diet high in whole foods are up to 35% less likely to develop depression than people who eat less of those foods.

The group also asserts that good nutrition begins in the womb. It points out that children of women who eat diets high in processed, fried and sugary foods during pregnancy have more emotional problems in childhood. In addition, a child’s diet during his or her first year of life that is low in whole, nutrient-dense foods and higher in junk and processed foods have a likely chance of suffering emotional problems.

MHA insists that one hour of exercise a week helps to reduce levels of mood, anxiety and substance use disorders. Furthermore, people in the U.S. who exercise regularly are less likely to suffer depression, panic disorder and phobias.  People who suffer schizophrenia experience a reduction of symptoms when they perform yoga.

MHA also sees a correlation between healthy eating and the brain. The stomach is sensitive to emotions like anger, anxiety, sadness, and joy and the brain reacts to signals from the stomach. Eating a healthy diet assures that your stomach and brain remains healthy. Animal research has discovered that inflammation in the stomach can affect the brain and cause such problems as anxiety and depression.

The group advocates that you eat foods that offer good bacteria, viruses, and fungi that live in your gut. Called prebiotic foods, they are high in fiber and offer the most benefit when you eat them raw. Prebiotic foods include asparagus, bananas, garlic, onions, jicama, tomatoes, apples, berries and mangos.

MHA also counsels that you eat food with live bacteria. Called probiotics, the bacteria supplements and encourages the growth of good bacteria in the gut. Make sure you eat foods that include Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus.

A good night’s sleep is also important for good mental health and good health in general. You get a good quality of sleep as long as you are asleep for at least 85% of the time you are in bed, that you fall asleep in 30 minutes or less and that you wake up no more than once per night.

Poor quality sleep increases the risk of developing mental health problems including manic and psychosis episodes, paranoia, anxiety, and depression. According to MHA, 50% to 80% of people under the care of a psychiatrist have problems sleeping compared to 10% to 18% of adults in the U.S. population.

To get a good night’s sleep, it is advised that you:

  • • Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day.
  • • Avoid exercising two to three hours before bedtime.
  • • Get out in the sun during the day to maintain your sleep-wake cycle.
  • • Avoid caffeine except in the morning.
  • • Don’t eat before bed.
  • • Nap for one hour before 3 p.m.
  • • Avoid nicotine.
  • • Limit your drinking. If you drink too much you may wake up to go to the bathroom. In addition, alcohol adversely affects the quality sleep.

Stress is common. How you handle it can mean the difference between achieving good or bad health.

Some tips to handling stress include:

  • • Say no to new activities when you feel overwhelmed.
  • • Don’t expect perfection from yourself or others.
  • • Take 10 to 20 minutes of quiet time if you feel stressed out.
  • • Use your imagination to picture how to manage a stressful situation.
  • • Take one thing at a time.
  • • Exercise.
  • • Take up a hobby.
  • • Vent to a family member or friend.
  • • Be flexible in your personal and professional life.
  • • Go easy on criticism.
  • • Don’t hold on to frustration or disappointment if another person doesn’t measure up.

How To Increase Mental Health Awareness

Mental Health America is offering screening tools on its website that help to identify symptoms of mental illness. These tools will teach you about your mental health. Included is information that offers warning signs of mental illness.

These tools help you identify signs of depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder, alcohol or substance abuse, psychosis and eating disorders. There is also a stress test that is a questionnaire that helps you determine the degrees of stress you are experiencing.

The site also offers worksheets that help you deal with mental health-related issues.

Mental Health Awareness Events

If you are wondering what to do for Mental Health Awareness Month, there are special events taking place across the country and locally in Georgia. A nation wide event that you can take part in is NAMI’s Walk for Mental Health. Visit their site to check out what day a walk may be taking place near you.

What to do for Mental Health Awareness Month in Georgia include:

Mental Health and Counseling Resource Fair
Wednesday, May 9, 2018
9 a.m. - 12 p.m.
Georgia Military College
115 Davis Road
Martinez, GA 30907

17th Annual Legislative Dinner
Augusta Coalition for Mental Health Advocacy
Thursday, May 10, 2018
Augusta Country Club
655 Milledge Road
Augusta, GA 30904
Cocktails begin at 5:30 p.m.
Dinner served at 6:00 p.m.

Sandwich Seminar: The Importance of wrap in Your Mental Health Recovery
Thursday, May 17, 2018
6 p.m. – 7 p.m.

Reid Memorial Presbyterian Church
2261 Walton Way
Augusta, GA 30904

Wrap is a wellness recovery action group that helps people with mental illness and substance abuse issues develop strategies to aid in your recovery. Barry Jones will moderate the session. He is a National Trainer and certified peer specialist who works with individuals to help them with their recovery.

Other Mental Health Awareness Months and Weeks to Take Note of

The issue of mental health is so complex more than one week or one month is necessary to educate the public. Other special days and months promoting mental health include:

Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day - May 10, 2018

National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month

Suicide Prevention Awareness Month

Mental Illness Awareness Week – October 1-7, 2018

Take some time this month to practice mindfulness and prioritize your mental health.