May is Mental Health Awareness Month. All 31 days are dedicated to mental health. Yet that still is absolutely not enough time to talk about something that affects millions of Americans. According to data provided by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), the consequences of failing to care for our mental health are as follows:
- Serious mental illness costs America $193.2 billion in lost earnings per year
- Mood Disorders, including depression and bipolar disorder, are the third most common cause of hospitalization for youth and adults 18-44 years of age.
- Individuals living with serious mental illness face an increased risk of having a chronic medical condition. Additionally, adults in the U.S living with serious mental illness die on average 25 years earlier, largely due to treatable medical conditions.
- Over one-third (37 percent) of students ages 14-21 with a mental health condition that are served by special education drop out. These individuals make up the largest dropout group.
- Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S and the 2nd leading cause of death for people aged 10-34 years of age.
- More than 90 percent of individuals who die by suicide show symptoms of a mental health condition.
- Each day an estimated 18-22 veterans die by suicide.
Here is the issue: consequences by definition are a result or effect of an action or condition. The provided list of consequences is at minimum a direct result of the lack of understanding and support for mental health. We cannot deny that mental health exists, it directly has an effect on all of us. We hear the stories, we read the articles, we “send prayers” on social media, and yet the majority of people do nothing. I wish I could say I am surprised. I wish that I had some explanation as why a majority of discussions about mental health are in response to a consequence that occurred due to lack of treatment or a lack of understanding. I have nothing. I can provide all the facts, share the data, and communicate the warning signs but I cannot change you. Mental health has no race or financial status. Any person regardless of age or demographics can be affected.
I can logically comprehend why there is a stigma around the topic of mental health. It appears to be more common for people to fear what they don’t understand and avoid it than to face that fear. Our society has developed a fear of mental health when instead we need to develop understanding. The stigma surrounding mental health has fueled a false belief and the development of a stereotype that mental illness is bad, crazy, unpredictable, and that individuals with mental illness are violent. As a result, individuals with mental illness are discriminated against.
Recently, a person shared with me that while filling out an employment application at a very large chain there was a question regarding mental health. It asked if the person has a diagnosis or history of mental illness. Prior to an interview and even prior to a phone call, the question was asked. Why? If we as a society do not have perceived stereotypes about individuals with mental illness, then why is that a necessary question? We need to be aware of our own preconceived notions, misconceptions, and believed myths regarding mental health. And we must be willing to learn facts and educate ourselves so that change can occur. The issue is not that a question regarding mental health was asked, it is the motive behind the question.
Stigma plus stereotype equals discrimination. Individuals with mental illness are being discriminated against. Studies have been conducted over the years and the concluding evidence is clear: landlords are less likely to rent to an individual with mental illness, an employer is less likely to hire someone who is labeled as mentally ill, and an employee with a known mental health illness is less likely to earn as much money as an individual with the same condition but who is not labeled.
The effect that stigma has on people with mental illness is extensive. It has the ability to impact every aspect of a person’s life. Stigma is one of the biggest barriers to individuals seeking treatment and, as a result, contributes to the worsening of symptoms and a negative impairment on the individual’s level of functioning.
Mental illness affects each and every one of us in some way. Maybe it’s personal, or possibly someone you care about, a coworker, or even a neighbor. We all have a reason to take action so that we can respectfully, and openly talk about mental health without fear and without judgment but with open minds and hearts.
We have the opportunity to change: to change our understanding and beliefs of mental health. We all have the ability to make our own choices and our choices result in consequences. Whether good, bad, or indifferent the consequences exist.
Rachel Velishek is a licensed professional clinical counselor with Fisher-Titus Behavioral Health, Fisher-Titus Medical Park 2, Suite C, 282 Benedict Ave., Norwalk. Her office can be reached at 419-668-0311. For more information on Fisher-Titus Behavioral Health, visit fishertitus.org/behavioral-health