May is Mental Health Awareness Month

Millions of people are currently suffering from various forms of mental illness. These issues affect their mental and sometimes physical health and place strains on relationships with friends and family who need additional support and guidance. According to the National Alliance on Mental Issues, Mental Health Awareness month began as a way to raise awareness and “fight stigma, provide support, educate the public and advocate for policies that support people with mental illness and their families.”

Being aware of mental health is not a new movement. Mental Health Awareness Month, then known as Mental Health Month, began in the United States in 1949. The month of May was chosen as the month to highlight the varying means for outreach and education as these issues have affected individuals and communities for decades.

Almost one in five Americans suffers from depression, schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. Mental Health Awareness month is also a time to bring heightened awareness about suicide, which can be precipitated by mental health issues. Individuals (and their families) living with these conditions far too often are told to just “get over it” or “say some prayers” to get rid of their various feelings and emotions. These are not practical solutions. If you broke your leg, you would not expect someone to tell you to go to church and pray away the blood, pain and the broken bones sticking out of your body. Therefore, it is absolutely ridiculous to refuse to acknowledge mental health issues as real and warranting possible medical attention and intervention.

May is almost over, but we can use the remainder of the month to take several action steps. First, we can check in with our own mental health. Each year Mental Health America releases their designated theme for the year, and 2018 is dedicated to Fitness #4Mind4Body. We can check in on our own journeys toward health, fitness and wellness. Second, we can check in on our friends and family members. Many people go through personal highs and lows, that is normal. However, some of our loved ones are actually living in their own internal prisons. Whether our friends and family members “seem fine” or whether they are exhibiting depression or self-destructive behaviors, we must make the time to adequately inquire about their mental state. A few moments of assessment can provide the space needed for adequate treatment and next steps on the road to management and recovery.

If you are interested in learning more you can visit www.mentalhealthamerica.net to browse their various toolkits and worksheets pertaining to mental health, nutrition, rest and overall wellness. If you are interested in a deeper dive into these issues and how they affect poverty and policy, go to the McSilver Institute at NYU to learn more: www.mcsilver.nyu.edu.

Christina Greer, Ph.D., is the 2018 NYU McSilver Institute Fellow and an associate professor at Fordham University, the author of “Black Ethnics: Race, Immigration, and the Pursuit of the American Dream” and the host of The Aftermath on Ozy.com. You can find her on Twitter @Dr_CMGreer.