This article, originally released in July 2014, was in recognition of the Bebe Moore Campbell National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month. The goal of that ongoing campaign is to improve access to mental health treatment and services for multicultural communities through increased public awareness. What we know: Everyone can benefit from knowing more about it year round (not just in July and May/National Mental Health Month).
Mental health and mental illness are two different concepts. Mental health is a state of well-being. Mental illness is a medical condition associated with thoughts, moods, behaviors, feelings, etc. The conditions often cause disruptions within one's personal relationships and in most other areas of their lives. The conditions are diagnosed by professionals.
Although historically it was common to negatively label and distance one's self from those who were seen as mentally unstable, insane, deranged or similar inappropriate/unacceptable words, we (society) are now moving to a better place. The better place allows us to have open and honest conversations about mental health. Those conversations can include sharing messages such as:
- Having a mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of. There are often biological, chemical and other reasons why certain conditions exist. If it's o.k. to talk about medical concerns such as diabetes, PAPVR and other heart defects, and cancer, then it's o.k. to talk about anxiety, bi-polar disorder, depression, mental distress, and schizophrenia.
- We are not alone. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates that approximately 17% of U.S. adults are considered to be in a state of optimal mental health, yet NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) shares an estimate that nearly two-thirds of all people with a diagnosable mental illness do not seek treatment, especially those from diverse communities.
- Ignoring the condition and just thinking 'happy thoughts' won't make it go away. Ignoring certain ideas, emotions or images and/or believing that just thinking positively may not be enough and could be dangerous. To read the top 5 things to do when positive thinking is not enough, click here.
- Stigma is the enemy, not the person who suffers from a condition. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), stigma sets the bearer apart from the rest of society, bringing with it feelings of shame and isolation. When a person with a stigmatized trait is unable to perform an action because of the condition, other people view the person as the problem rather than viewing the condition as the problem. The results: Stigma creates prejudice, avoidance, rejection and discrimination towards those with illnesses, disorders or other traits perceived as undesirable. Stigma causes unnecessary suffering, possible delays in seeking treatment, and missed opportunities for relief and healing.
While stigma continues to play a leading role in the reason mental health remains the elephant in the room, there are things we can do to turn it around. The simplest: Get connected, stay informed, share resources and let's keep talking about the conditions (actual illnesses, disorders and traits).
If you or someone you know needs mental health support, it’s o.k. to ask for help and contact NAMI St. Louis http://www.namistl.org/ or your local mental health provider. For more information on the Bebe Moore Campbell National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month: http://minorityhealth.hhs.gov/templates/content.aspx?ID=9447&lvl=3&lvlID=331.
Video and some links updated Jan. 18, 2015.