While last month’s bountiful rains may yet bring flowers (in some places it’s still too cold to tell), May holds many things to be celebrated, not the least of which is its status as Mental Health Awareness Month.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), “Each year millions of Americans face the reality of living with a mental illness. During May, NAMI and the rest of the country are raising awareness of mental health. Each year we fight stigma, provide support, educate the public and advocate for policies that support people with mental illness and their families.”
In its “manifesto” NAMI warns, “There’s a virus spreading across America. It harms the 1 in 5 Americans affected by mental health conditions. It shames them into silence. It prevents them from seeking help. And in some cases, it takes lives. What virus are we talking about? It’s stigma. Stigma against people with mental health conditions. But there’s good news. Stigma is 100% curable. Compassion, empathy and understanding are the antidote …” (NAMI, 2018).
This year, NAMI is focusing on the de-stigmatization (“CureStigma”) surrounding identification and treatment of mental health disorders, stating, “Stigma is toxic to their mental health because it creates an environment of shame, fear and silence that prevents many people from seeking help and treatment. The perception of mental illness won’t change unless we act to change it.”
NAMI and others, such as The Jed Foundation and SAVE, are highly focused on the effects of stigma, both “bad” and “good.” In a Huffington Post article, Jed medical director Victor Schwartz M.D., and Dan Reidenberg Psy.D., Executive Director, Suicide Awareness Voices of Education, offer, “The issue of stigma around mental health has received a tremendous amount of media attention and increased public awareness … yet not everyone always agrees what we mean by stigma in relation to mental health. Sometimes we use this term in relation to prejudice against or fear of people with mental illness. Sometimes we use it to describe the fact that people with mental illness are often treated worse than people with physical illness. Sometimes we mean that people are afraid of having mental illness and look down on those with mental illness. But no matter what meaning we are thinking of when we consider stigma in relation to mental illness, just about everyone (and it’s fair to say that everyone in the professional mental health community) agrees that mental health stigma is not a good thing” (Schwartz and Reidenberg, 2016).
They do, though, point out that some stigma (of the “good” variety) may discourage suicide in some communities.
Generally speaking, the promotion of help-seeking behaviors by those at risk (including, of course, young people, who may suffer disproportionately compared to the general population) is, indeed, a very good thing. And it may, in part, account for a surge in demand for mental health treatment on college campuses (Wallace, 2018).
It is at this juncture of discussion where a mere recitation of scary statistics related to mood disorders, substance use disorders and suicides may divert much needed attention from remedies rather than reactions.
Much like the Institute for Behavior and Health (IBH) manages to cut through the clutter of data around youth and substance use through its “One Choice” initiative, two concurrent public campaigns designed to promote inclusion, empathy and emotional support offer simple paths forward.
For its part, the Child Mind Institute recently announced the continuation of its highly successful, inspiring campaign, “#MyYoungerSelf,” stating, “This May actors, athletes, social influencers, businesspeople and more are sending messages of hope about their experience growing up with a mental health or learning disorder … You’re not alone. Ask for help” (Child Mind Institute, 2018).
This campaign was recently featured on “NBC Nightly News.”
Another important moment in the mental health awareness movement occurred when actress Brittany Snow, The Jed Foundation and MTV created the Love Is Louder campaign in order “to build on the outpouring of support online after the lives of multiple teenagers were lost to suicide in September 2010. This movement strives to amplify the momentum of other inspiring online campaigns and invite anyone who has felt mistreated, misunderstood or isolated into the conversation …”
Jed says, “We are here to raise the volume around a critical message — that love and support is more powerful than the external and internal voices that bring us down, cause us pain and make us feel hopeless” (The Jed Foundation, 2010).
Plans are unfolding to add new Love Is Louder programming in order to reach more people, campuses and communities.
No doubt mirroring both formal and informal grassroots efforts nationwide, these important initiatives speak with clarity and resonance about the need to better identify and support those in need of mental health support.
Love, indeed, is louder.