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National Mental Health Month: Improving Access to Behavioral Health

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Melinda Curle

Every May, we celebrate National Mental Health Month, a time set aside to recognize individuals with behavioral and mental health conditions as well as acknowledge the people who support them. In 2019 alone, 51.5 million U.S. adults struggled with mental health issues and because one in five people will experience some form of mental illness throughout their lifetime, chances are we all know someone who is affected.

Over the course of the past year, the Covid-19 pandemic has taken its toll on the mental health of many people. According to a poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation in the Spring of 2020, 45% of adults in the United States reported that their mental health was negatively impacted due to stress about the virus.

While raising awareness about mental health has always been critical, now more than ever, it is even more important this year as we navigate our recovery from a global pandemic. To do your part, you can educate yourself on both behavioral as well as mental health issues in addition to equipping others on how to effectively reduce social stigmas. Then, you can use this insight to advocate for change now, during and even after National Mental Health Month.

Differences Between Behavioral and Mental Health

Even though people often confuse the two, behavioral health is a general term that usually includes mental health. Since behavioral health examines how your habits impact your overall physical and mental wellbeing, behavioral health disorders commonly co-occur with mental health illnesses.

On the other hand, mental health is defined by the World Health Organization as a "state of well-being that allows an individual to reach his or her potential". There a few factors that contribute to mental health including biology, psychology and life trauma, all of which influence how we cope with stress, interact with others as well as determine our own value within society.

Why We Need to Address Mental Health Stigmas

Although mental health conditions are common, very few people seek the care they actually need. Considering this research from the National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI), 20.6% of U.S. adults experienced mental illness in 2019, yet only 43.8% of them received treatment.

During National Mental Health Month, we aim to not only support mental health awareness but most importantly, address the stigmas associated with both behavioral and mental health issues. One way to conquer these stigmas is by advocating for policies that make mental health treatment more accessible. We can also educate the public with informative resources and help normalize discussions regarding typical conditions such as anxiety, depression, eating disorders and more. Through these efforts, we can significantly reduce negative perceptions about mental illness and encourage people to get the care they need without feeling ostracized or alone.

How Covid-19 Has Affected Mental Health Worldwide

It is obvious that the Covid-19 pandemic--with its stressors and extensive limits to social interaction--has made mental health challenges even more prevalent, so much so, that as we start to move into the new "normal," we will continue to see the widespread effects it has on the future of public health.

What can we do? Well, we know that previous health crises have been associated with increased rates of substance abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder and depression, but this May, we must fight harder to help our communities rebound from the setbacks of Covid-19. Keep reading to discover ways you can advocate for real change!

How to Celebrate National Mental Health Month

Use Social Media To Amplify Your Voice

National Mental Health Month is the perfect time to raise awareness for mental health issues in your community. By starting a conversation and identifying the importance of treatment, your efforts can make a BIG difference and will often reach at least someone in your circle and sometimes far beyond, depending on your platform. Just know, that any amount of participation or interest counts. You can pursue change on your own accord or join a group like the National Alliance for Mental Illness, but together, we can work towards an improved tomorrow!


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