May is National Mental Health Awareness Month

HOUGHTON — May is National Mental Health Awareness Month.

Mental health is defined as including emotional, psychological and social well-being, according to mentalhealth.gov, (www.mentalhealth.gov/basics/what-is-mental-health).

Mental health affects how people think, feel and act. It also helps determine how people handle stress, relate to others and make choices. Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood.

“Over the course of your life,” states the website, “if you experience mental health problems, your thinking, mood and behavior could be affected.”

Many factors contribute to mental health problems, including:

– Biological factors, such as genes or brain chemistry.

– Life experiences, such as trauma or abuse.

– A family history of mental health problems.

Michigan residents are by no means excluded from mental illness, particularly depression and anxiety.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (www.nami.org/NAMI/media/NAMI-Media/StateFactSheets/MichiganStateFactSheet.pdf) reports that 57.8% of Michigan youth ages 12 to 17 who have depression did not receive any care in the last year.

NAMI’s report also shows that one in six of U.S. youth ages 6 to 17 experienced a mental health disorder each year; and 119,000 Michigan residents ages 12 to 17 have depression.

NAMI further reports that 4,224,425 people in Michigan live in a community that does not have enough mental health professionals and that 1,469,000 adults — more than seven times the population of Grand Rapids — in Michigan have a mental health condition.

Beyond a lack of access to care, studies show that stigma can be another major deterrent to people seeking help for mental illness.

The Mayo Clinic (www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/mental-illness/in-depth/mental-health/art-20046477) states: “Stigma is when someone views you in a negative way because you have a distinguishing characteristic or personal trait that’s thought to be, or actually is, a disadvantage (a negative stereotype). Unfortunately, negative attitudes and beliefs toward people who have a mental health condition are common.”

Stigma can lead to discrimination, the Mayo Clinic reports.

“Discrimination may be obvious and direct, such as someone making a negative remark about your mental illness or your treatment,” according to the Mayo Clinic. “Or it may be unintentional or subtle, such as someone avoiding you because the person assumes you could be unstable, violent or dangerous due to your mental illness. You may even judge yourself.”

Some of the harmful effects of stigma can include:

– Reluctance to seek help or treatment.

– Lack of understanding by family, friends, co-workers or others.

– Fewer opportunities for work, school or social activities.

– Trouble finding housing.

– Bullying, physical violence or harassment.

– Health insurance that doesn’t adequately cover mental illness treatment.

– A belief that you’ll never succeed at certain challenges or that you can’t improve your situation.

Lack of understanding from family can also lead to stigma from family members, making seeking help or regaining mental health more difficult. It can also lead to family estrangement.

Medical News Today (www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/mental-health-stigma#mental-health-stigma) reports the pressure of mental health stigma can come from family, friends, coworkers and society on a broader level.

It can prevent people living with mental illness from getting help, fitting into society, and leading happy and comfortable lives.

The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health states that there are many reasons why people develop mental illness. Some are genetic or biological. Some are a result of childhood trauma or overwhelming stress at school, work or home. Some stem from environmental injustice or violence.

However, “Sometimes, we simply don’t know,” according to CAMH (www.camh.ca/en/driving-change/addressing-stigma).

Regardless of the reasons, psychological or psychiatric issues are health problems like cancer, arthritis or diabetes.

Stigma seriously affects the well-being of those who experience it. It affects people while they are experiencing problems, while they are in treatment, while they are healing and even when their mental health problem is treated and becomes just a distant memory.

Stigma profoundly changes how people feel about themselves and the way others see them.

“So why does society look at people with mental illness, including substance use disorders, differently?” CAMH states. “The answer is stigma. The real question, however, is how do we stop it?”

Fear and misunderstanding often lead to prejudice against people with mental illness and addictions, even among service providers. It’s one of the main reasons why many people don’t consider it a real health issue.

This prejudice and discrimination leads to feelings of hopelessness and shame in those struggling to cope with their situation, creating a serious barrier to diagnosis and treatment.

CAMH offers a list of 7 things people can do to reduce stigma:

– Know the facts. Educate yourself about mental illness, including substance use disorders.

– Be aware of your attitudes and behavior. Examine your own judgmental thinking, reinforced by upbringing and society.

– Choose your words carefully. The way we speak can affect the attitudes of others.

– Educate others. Pass on facts and positive attitudes; challenge myths and stereotypes.

– Focus on the positive. Mental illness, including addictions, are only part of anyone’s larger picture.

– Support people. Treat everyone with dignity and respect; offer support and encouragement.

– Include everyone. It’s against the law to deny jobs or services to anyone with these health issues.


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