By Jacquelyn Buffo, MS, LPC, CAADC
May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. With the emergence of COVID-19 and the added financial, social, educational, and occupational stress, many people across the country are finding themselves dealing with increased emotional and mental distress. In fact, the national hotline designed to support people in psychological distress has increased 891% compared to this time last year.
Mental health has a controversial history. Hollywood’s depictions of insane asylums, questionable treatment practices, and lack of scientific research have contributed to the stigma that historically accompanied mental health. Thankfully, mental health has made its way into mainstream media and is becoming normalized and accepted more today than ever before. Our favorite athletes and celebrities are discussing their mental health diagnosis, challenges, and treatment and are encouraging others to do the same.
One out of every 5 American adults experiences a mental health disorder, and 1 out of 25 experiences a severe mental health disorder. Mental health disorders are an undeniable facet of reality, and it is crucial that the stigma and prejudice with mental health be eliminated. Treating and overcoming mental illness is possible, and the more we feel comfortable discussing our mental health issues, the more willing we are to receive treatment for it.
Unfortunately, only 43.3% of people with a mental health disorder received treatment in 2018. Many factors can account for this low number including apprehension about coming forward with a mental health disorder, lack of awareness as to possible treatment options, and lack of resources (insurance, financial, transportation) to get help. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is a big advocate for May being Mental Health Awareness Month. The goals of Mental Health Awareness Month are to raise awareness, reduce stigma, advocate for public health policies, provide support, and educate the public.
We all play a part in reducing the stigma and normalizing mental health and mental illness. Sharing your story with others is a great way to advocate and connect with people who are struggling with mental health issues. You can share your story on NAMI’s website and read others’ stories of challenges and triumphs.
In addition, you can take NAMI’s StigmaFree pledge. Making a pledge to be stigma-free means committing to intentionally use empowering words and actions that encourage acceptance and support for people with mental illness. Making this commitment is a way to advocate for mental health, and it empowers you to make a difference in ending the stigma associated with mental illness.
As the saying goes, money talks! Raising money for your favorite nonprofit or philanthropic endeavors is an effective way to provide support and resources. You can raise money in many different ways for NAMI or any other mental health organization. Some options include competing in a physical event while raising money for the event, creating your own campaign to raise support, celebrating your birthday by encouraging donations to your favorite organization in lieu of gifts, creating a memorial page for a person you have lost, or making a single or recurring monetary donation to your favorite mental health organization.
If you are short on coins, that’s okay. You can help in other ways that don’t cost money. Along with pledging to be StigmaFree and sharing your story with others, you can volunteer your time to a local mental health agency or community center. Donating your time to volunteering is an invaluable way you can advocate for mental health and contribute to ending the stigma.
NAMI sponsors walks across the country throughout the summer to raise money, spread awareness, and increase advocacy for mental health. A list of walks (most of which are being done virtually in 2020) can be found here. It is not surprising that the list of events in 2020 is up in the air due to COVID-19. To stay up to date, you can follow NAMI on many social media platforms. They include:
- Facebook: facebook.com/nami
- Twitter: twitter.com/namicommunicate
- Instagram: instragram.com/namicommunicate
Remember, you are not alone in your mental health journey. Millions of Americans experience a mental health issue at some point in their lives. Asking for help is key to managing mental illness. Having the courage to talk about your journey and to get treatment can help encourage others to do the same and help normalize the experience of mental illness.
Jacquelyn Buffo is a licensed professional counselor with experience and expertise in substance abuse and mental health issues. She received her MS in mental health counseling from Capella University and is a Certified Advanced Alcohol and Drug Counselor through the state of Michigan. She is also in the process of receiving her certification in dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). Jacquelyn has experience working with clients suffering from addiction and mental health issues on an in-home, residential, and outpatient basis. Currently, she works with adolescents and adults with Borderline Personality Disorder, Major Depressive Disorder, PTSD and Generalized Anxiety Disorder through Henry Ford Health System.