Be A Mental Health Awareness Month Champion
Each year, the month of May is set aside to focus on increasing mental health awareness. Throughout the month, efforts to champion combating and eliminating stigma, as well as fighting for parity and access to services, are priorities for individuals living with a mental health diagnosis, their family members, caregivers, as well as providers, and advocates. Engagement in increased advocacy through deliberate activities to raise awareness about the importance of understanding mental health occur across our nation giving opportunity for all of us to be a mental health advocate champion.
For the month of May, The National Alliance on Mental Illness’s theme for the month is “Together for Mental Health” and “Together, we can realize our shared vision of a nation where anyone affected by mental illness can get the appropriate support and quality of care to live healthy, fulfilling lives.”
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact our nation and although we are slowly moving forward, we are facing a mental health crisis in our country. Both youth and adults have all reported experiencing first time symptoms of anxiety and depression or an increase in symptoms already present before the pandemic. Issues related to isolation, worry and stress often manifest in difficulty sleeping, eating, increases in substance use. As these symptoms emerged and worsened during the pandemic, service access was difficult leaving individuals and families unsure how to get help.
The restrictions from COVID-19, coupled with an already burdened mental health system in the United States have increased challenges to ensure that everyone has access to mental health care. Yet, it has also created the opportunity for necessary conversations to take place about mental health since we all have a common bond; we have all been faced with isolation and uncertainty. My hope is that we will continue to speak out and normalize that having difficulties with our mental health is OK…we can say it is “Ok to Not be Ok” BUT we cannot stop there…it is NOT OK to have a never ending “Not Ok”… there is help available and we must eliminate stigma and increase access to care for all.
Although one month is set aside each year to focus on mental health awareness, it is essential that this awareness continues EVERY month each year. Mental wellness is a right everyone should be able to experience. Without access to services, parity, and the elimination of stigma, mental wellness will continue to be a right that is out of reach for many. Please engage in as much conversation as you can to champion mental wellness and to help eliminate the stigma for good. Use YOUR voice for mental health awareness… "Together for Mental Health”.
By Mary E. Garrison LCSW, ACSW, Professor of Social Work.
Mary E. Garrison is a Professor of Social Work at Millikin University and serves as a board member for SIU School of Medicine Farm Family Resource Initiative, NAMI Illinois, and Kennedy Forum Illinois.