Why We Need Mental Illness Awareness

This post is part of our series for Mental Illness Awareness Week, October 4-10th, 2020.

Today, October 4th, marks the second day of national Mental Illness Awareness Week. This week, we’ll be looking at the impact that mental illness can have on the lives of our loved ones or even ourselves.

Let’s begin with why we need mental illness awareness.

In the words of famous Hollywood actor Mark Ruffalo, “A lot of people are living with mental illness around them. Either you love one or you are one.”

What do people commonly think about mental illness?

It’s not surprising to see people hesitate to talk about mental health or even shy away from it. It can be source of shame or discomfort, something to keep quiet about and deny. Luckily, the social tides are changing and it’s becoming normal and even welcomed to discuss mental challenges to friends and family.

Let’s look at some myths and facts about mental illness:

Additionally, the stats can seem a bit daunting:

  • 19.1% of U.S. adults experienced mental illness in 2018 (47.6 million people). This represents 1 in 5 adults.
  • 4.6% of U.S. adults experienced serious mental illness in 2018 (11.4 million people). This represents 1 in 25 adults.
  • 16.5% of U.S. youth aged 6-17 experienced a mental health disorder in 2016 (7.7 million people)
  • 3.7% of U.S. adults experienced a co-occurring substance use disorder and mental illness in 2018 (9.2 million people)

Mental illness does not only affect the person diagnosed – it affects the systems around that person. NAMI describes the impact on surrounding systems as a ‘ripple effect’, starting at the center with the person dealing with mental illness and reaching out to affect the world.

On the individual:

  • They can have an increased risk for chronic diseases like cancer and diabetes

On the family

  • At least 8.4 million Americans provide care to an adult with an emotional or mental illness
  • Caregivers spend an average of 32 hours per week providing unpaid care

On the community:

  • 20% of people experiencing homelessness also have a serious mental illness
  • 37% of people incarcerated in state and federal prison have a diagnosed mental condition
  • 70% of youth in juvenile system have at least one mental health condition
  • 1 in 8 of all visits to U.S. emergency departments are related to mental and substance use disorders

On the world:

  • Depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide
  • Depression and anxiety disorders cost the global economy $1 trillion each year in lost productivity

So, do you think it’s important to talk about mental illness?

The US Department of Health & Human Services notes that, “half of all mental health disorders show first signs before a person turns 14 years old, and three quarters of mental health disorders begin before age 24.” Although we have this information, “less than 20% of children and adolescents with diagnosable mental health problems receive the treatment they need.”

Being aware about the prevalence of mental health and treatment options is crucial for positive outcomes. Not only should we be aware, we should advocate for those who may be unware of how mental illness can affect them or their loved ones. Prevention, in the sphere of mental, emotion, and behavioral disorders, focuses on addressing well-known risk factors such as being exposed to trauma during adolescence. The USDHHS further states that, “promoting the social-emotional well-being of children and youth leads to:

  • Higher overall productivity
  • Better educational outcomes
  • Lower crime rates
  • Stronger economies
  • Lower health care costs
  • Improved quality of life
  • Increased lifespan
  • Improved family life

What do we do to increase awareness?

First and foremost, talk about it! Don’t be afraid to ask your friends and family how they’re doing, especially if they’ve had any sudden life changes. Be open with your loved ones about your own feelings and encourage others to do the same.

Education is key for change! Read about mental illness, about people’s personal experiences, about anything you can get your hands on! The more you educate yourself, the greater your opportunity to educate others and challenge the stigma around mental health and mental illness.

Volunteer! Find your local mental health organizations and ask to volunteer. Mental illness affects everyone, from all walks of life. You never know who you might meet and what you can learn from those who are on their paths of recovery.

Spread the word! Use your social media platforms to disseminate information about mental illness and any national or local events that may be happening that are focused on mental health. You never know who might see your posts and see it as a sign to reach for help!

If you’d like more information on how to get involved with spreading mental illness awareness, check out the links below!