By Kayt Sukel
For more than 65 years, Mental Health America (MHA), one of the United States’ leading community-based mental health advocacy groups, has observed the month of May as a month of education and awareness. Over the years, numerous organizations and health providers have supported this endeavor. In 2016, President Barack Obama issued a presidential proclamation, stating, “This month, we renew our commitment to ridding our society of the stigma associated with mental illness, encourage those living with mental health conditions to get the help they need, and reaffirm our pledge to ensure those who need help have access to the support, acceptance, and resources they deserve.”
Each year, Mental Health Month has a different theme. Music aficionados will likely recall Ian Dury’s 1977 punk classic, “Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll.” It also happens to be the theme of MHA’s 2017 conference. To that end, MHA decided to use the theme, Risky Business, for this May. MHA will focus its education and advocacy efforts on the “habits and behaviors that increase the risk of developing or exacerbating mental illnesses, or could be signs of mental health problems themselves.”
In the last few years, American society has become much more accepting of certain forms of mental illness—but myths and misconceptions still abound. Experts estimate that approximately 1 in 5 Americans will experience some sort of mental health issue in their lifetime. So, the stakes are too high to keep our collective heads in the sand. What are some behaviors that fall under the MHA’s classification of risky business? There are a wide variety including risky sex, excessive spending, marijuana use, troublesome exercise and eating patterns, prescription drug misuse, and gaming addictions. Part of MHA’s goal is to better educate young people, as well as their parents and families, about how these risk factors may indicate an underlying issue with mental health—or even be an issue itself.
How can you get involved? It starts with learning more about Mental Health Month. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has a host of opportunities so you can help spread MHA’s message of tolerance and understanding. You can take the #stigmafree pledge, and help change the way we think and talk about mental illness. You can get creative and find a way to share your own story regarding mental health. You can organize or participate in community events and activities that may be planned in your area. Or you can spend more time learning more about what it means to live with a mental health issue today in America.
Whatever you decide, your personal observance of Mental Health Month can help bring greater understanding about mental health and wellbeing to your peers and community. Get involved and help replace stigma with hope.
Note: In observance of Mental Health Month, GeneSight will be publishing posts about some of the habits and behaviors highlighted in MHA’s Risky Business campaign throughout the month.