Blog authored by Beth Scheetz. Beth serves as Guild’s Chief Clinical Officer. As an innovative and dedicated leader in community mental health, she is passionate about increasing the quality and continuity of care and destigmatizing mental illness. In her free time, she enjoys traveling, gardening, and spending time with her family and cats.
1 in 5 Americans Lives With a Mental Illness
Since 1949, Mental Health America, NAMI, and hundreds of mental health advocates and organizations across the county have observed May as Mental Health Month. This national movement exists to raise awareness about mental health, fight stigma, provide support, educate the public and advocate for policies that support people with mental illness and their families.
Often our family, friends, and community members live with their mental illness in silence because of the judgment and stigma that accompanies having a mental illness in America. Data shows that 1 in 5 adults in our county live with mental illness – 51.5 million people. Many people have heard this statistic before, but what does it mean in day-to-day life? The next time you are in a group of five family members, friends, or community members – recognize that if you do not have a mental illness, it’s statistically likely that one of them does.
We Have Work To Do
While the average American knows more about mental health now, the data shows that there remain significant disparities. In the United States, individuals with mental illness:
- Have a shorter than average life span, and die ten years earlier than those without, not from their mental illness, but often from treatable medical conditions.
- Are more likely to live in poverty and be unemployed. The unemployment rate for U.S. adults who have a mental illness is 5.8% compared to those without 3.6%.
- Experience higher rates of homelessness, 20.5% of people experiencing homelessness in the U.S. have a serious mental health condition.
- Higher rates of violent interactions with law enforcement, incarceration, and an increased risk of death by suicide.
- 37% of adults incarcerated in the state and federal prison systems have a diagnosed mental illness.
- 46% of people who die by suicide have a diagnosed mental health condition.
- 43.8% of U.S. adults with mental illness received treatment in 2019.
This data shows that our current health care system is failing individuals living with mental illness every day. These disparities are intersectional – race, ethnicity, gender, social class – interact together and create even greater gaps in access and opportunity to receive care. Sue Abderholden, Executive Director of NAMI Minnesota says, “Our mental health system isn’t broken; it was never built.”
You Are Not Alone
For 2021’s Mental Health Awareness Month, NAMI and advocates will continue to amplify the message, You Are Not Alone. Mental illness can cause devastating isolation for individuals and families. Now more than ever, people need to feel connected and supported.
What you can do:
- Acknowledge Mental Health Awareness Month by wearing green, using it as an opportunity to tell others your story of why mental health awareness is important to you.
- Take action: learn about the significant systemic change that we need in order to change these disparities and commit to advocating for system and policy changes. We dream of a system that offers access to the services, supports, and treatment people need at the time and place where they are needed.
- Keep talking about it, beyond just one month. Commit to advancing change in the long term. People who recognize that our society is only as strong as its most vulnerable members, and how we treat those members, speaks to who we are as a people and a county. Closing the door of opportunity for 51.5 million people is not acceptable. It cannot be acceptable to any of us.
- Use You Are Not Alone as a rallying cry. Get involved, do research, ask questions, volunteer, donate money – lean into discomfort.
- Lift up people’s voices, share stories and resources on social media. Spreading awareness and understanding makes a difference. Stigma comes from fear and lack of understanding – let’s make people aware and help them to understand. The lives of our brothers and sisters living with mental illness depends on it.
Everyone deserves access to the support and resources necessary to live a healthy life. The glaring gap in access to services and resources is not just an issue for those living with mental illness. It is a community, state, and national issue. No words ring truer about the success of a community than Paul Wellstone’s “We all do better when we all do better.” We have to do better – for ourselves, our families, and our communities. The time is now. You are not alone!
Mental Health Awareness Month Resource List:
- Guild’s mental health programs
- Guild’s blog: features a wide variety of mental health blogs and information