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May is Mental Health Awareness Month

“And sometimes I have kept my feelings to myself, because I could find no language to describe them in.” -Jane Austen

As we are in the midst of May, also known as Mental Health Awareness month, it is an important time to explore the stigma associated with mental health and individuals that live with mental health disorders. An estimated 54 million Americans suffer from some form of mental disorder in a given year; however, as founded by the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) in 2018, the average lapse in time of the onset of symptoms and implementation of services or interventions is “eight to ten years.” This strongly suggests there is a real fear in individuals of facing a social stigma if they decide to reach out for help and/or mental health services. The significance of breaking this stigma cannot be overstated, as it stands as a significant barrier in individuals getting the support necessary to effectively cope with and possibly overcome their symptoms.

When moving through our day-to-day interactions, we are enveloped by the “I’m good” mentality when others ask how we have been doing, when in all reality we may be struggling internally. Knowing that others will be hesitant to be forthcoming about their true emotional state, Mental Health Awareness month provides us with an important first step: being aware of the potential warning signs. Some of the typical warning signs individual’s struggling with mental health may exhibit are:

• Feeling sad or withdrawn
• Risk-taking or impulsive behaviors
• A sudden overwhelming feeling of fear, with no identifying trigger(s)
• Restricting caloric intake, engaging in purging behaviors, or significant changes in weight.
• Severe mood swings
• Unhealthy usage of chemicals (drugs or alcohol)
• Sudden changes in behavior, personality, or sleep
• Difficulty concentrating or staying still
• Intense worries or fears that get in the way of interactions with others
• Thoughts of death

It is essential that we recognize the commonality and prevalence of mental health disorders within society. According to the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI, 2018), one in five or twenty percent of Americans currently experience mental health disorders. With mental health disorders affecting eighty percent of the population (Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 2016) at some point in our lives, whether it’s a family member, friend, or direct experience, it is apparent that open conversations about mental health are crucial in breaking the stigma. Recently, society has made significant strides in openly discussing sexual assault and trauma through the “Me Too” movement. The “Me Too” movement was able to successfully re-frame a topic that was considered private to a public discussion about trauma to raise awareness about its prevalence in society and what resources are available to the victims of sexual violence. Mental Health Awareness month provides a similar opportunity to delve into the stigma of mental health more generally, to engage in open discussions in what can be done to normalize mental health disorders, and in turn being able to acknowledge that it is okay to not feel “great,” “good,” or “alright,” and to recognize that there is support out there.

If you believe that you or someone you know would benefit from mental health services, please help break the stigma by initiating conversations about mental health, you might just provide someone the opportunity to express personal struggles simply by asking them how they are truly feeling.

National Alliance of Mental Health. 2018 May. https://www.nami.org/mentalhealthmonth
J Abnorm Psychol. 2017 Feb;126(2):212-224. doi: 10.1037/abn0000232. Epub 2016 Dec 1.

Claire Pieper, MSW, LGSW
Claire graduated from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities with a bachelor’s degree in Psychology. Deciding to take an alternative route to the traditional track of a Psychology major, Claire pursued her master’s in social work at Saint Louis University to immerse herself into a community that provides a comprehensive, hands-on education and practicum program. Claire currently practices at the Chaska clinic.