Step for mental health this week


The first full week in October, this year the 5th-11th, is Mental Illness Awareness Week, sponsored nationwide by various organizations. It was established nearly 30 years ago by Congress to increase awareness of mental illness. It’s easy to dismiss mental illness as something that afflicts an unfortunate few. This does not line up with facts, however. An estimated 26.2 percent of Americans ages 18 and older experience a mental illness in any given year. This includes Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), as well as depression, anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder, or other mental illness.

People with depression have a 40 percent higher risk of developing cardiovascular and metabolic diseases than the general population. The rate of unemployment is higher among U.S. adults who have mental illness compared to those who do not (5.8 percent vs. 3.6 percent) High school students with significant symptoms of depression are more than twice as likely to drop out compared to their peers. At least 8.4 million people provide care to an adult with a mental or emotional health issue. Caregivers of adults with mental or emotional health issues spend an average of 32 hours per week providing unpaid care. Mood disorder are the most common cause of hospitalization for all people in the U.S. under age 45 (excluding hospitalization for pregnancy and birth). Suicide is the second leading cause of death among people aged 10-34 in the U.S. and the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S.

By creating awareness of mental illness, with its possible causes and its effect on families and loved ones, creating community discussion about mental illness is one way advocates are trying to put an end to the stigma of mental illness. Activities ranging from art and music events to benefit runs to health fairs to advertising campaigns bring the public in to the national discussion of mental illness.

It’s only responsible to point out that in most cases, mental illness does not cause a sufferer to do anything violent. No matter the diagnosis, most people with mental illness are at more risk of being victims of violence than they are to commit acts of violence.

It’s important to discuss mental health conditions year round. Mental Illness Awareness Week provides a dedicated time for mental health advocates across the country to come together as one unified voice. Since 1990, when Congress officially established the first full week of October as Mental Illness Awareness Week (MIAW), advocates have worked together to sponsor activities, large or small, to educate the public about mental illness.

It’s worth continued investigation, and further action. The current mental health system is not set up for effective screening of possibly vulnerable individuals. It’s not set up to treat emergency situations. A patient who comes in with a dangerous spike in blood sugar or heart rate experiences the protocol from medical staff consistent with a life-threatening emergency, which is exactly what must happen to save the patient’s life. A patient with severe depression or delusions, is often put on a waiting list for an appointment to even see a professional. Yet the waiting, and the inaction even once the patient is seen, is just as life-threatening.

As researchers learn more about mental illnesses, we believe there must be more medical services and professional help for people with those illnesses, not less. If mental illness was treated the way other kinds of serious illnesses are treated, our communities would suffer fewer tragedies overall.

If you or someone you know is having a crisis of mental health, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK 8255 or call 911 immediately.


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