May is Mental Health Awareness Month and since 1949, organizations across the United States have been actively promoting awareness about depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety and schizophrenia. This year, National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has chosen the theme of “CureStigma” for this year’s campaign.

Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood.

Mental Health Facts:

  • One in 5 (46.6 million) adults in the United States experience a mental health condition in a given year.
  • Approximately 46.6 million adults in the United States face the reality of managing a mental illness every day.
  • Half of all lifetime mental health conditions begin by age 14 and 75% by age 24, but early intervention programs can help.
  • Up to 90% of those who die by suicide have an underlying mental illness as revealed by psychological autopsy.
  • Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. With effective care, suicidal thoughts are treatable, and suicide is preventable.
  • Individuals with mental health conditions face an average 11-year delay between experiencing symptoms and starting treatment.
  • Common barriers to treatment include the cost of mental health care and insurance, prejudice and discrimination, and structural barriers like transportation.
  • Even though most people can experience relief from symptoms and support for their recovery in treatment, less than half of the adults in the United States get the help they need.

Stigma of Mental Health Conditions:

We all understand and give support to people having a physical health problem such as diabetes, cancer, heart disease, etc. However, people experiencing mental health conditions often face rejection, bullying and even discrimination. This can make their journey to recovery longer and more difficult.

Mental illness, eating disorders and substance abuse disorders carry a huge amount of stigma in today’s world even though anyone can potentially be diagnosed with one of these disorders.

Individuals usually do not choose to become addicted to painkillers, choose to engage in binging and purging episodes or choose to be diagnosed with depression, but rather these issues stem from a mix of genetics, ingrained personality traits and a past history of abuse, trauma, low self-esteem, interpersonal conflicts and stress. 

In an article, “The Importance of Mental Health Awareness” by Jean Holthaus, the author states that mental illnesses affect 20% of the adult population, 46% of teenagers and 13% of children each year.

She says people struggling with their mental health may be in your family, live next door, teach your children, work in the next cubicle or sit in the same church pew-- however, only half of those affected receive treatment, often because of the stigma attached to mental health.

People are afraid to seek help and treatment because they may be judged, ridiculed and shunned by others or they may judge themselves. As a result, many individuals live in silence about their undiagnosed mental health disorder.

Even when a diagnosis is made, individuals are scared to share their diagnosis with friends and family out of fear they may be seen as inadequate or weak. Hiding from a mental illness creates even more toxicity and can worsen the depression, anxiety or bipolar disorder potentially leading to an additional disorder or suicidal tendencies.

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According to the National Institute for Mental Health, here are a few powerful things we can do to help stop the stigma:

  • Showing individuals respect and acceptance removes a significant barrier to successfully coping with their illness. Having people see you as an individual and not as your illness can make the biggest difference for someone who is struggling with their mental health.
  • Advocating within our circles of influence helps ensure these individuals have the same rights and opportunities as other members of your church, school and community.
  • Learning more about mental health allows us to provide helpful support to those affected in our families and communities.

In summary, mental health issues affect us all – either directly or indirectly. If we educate ourselves and work together to overcome the stigma of mental health issues, we can make our community a safe and welcoming place for those facing mental health challenges.

Judith Dale can be reached at


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