May is Mental Health Awareness Month
The theme for 2022 is "Together for Mental Health" — and together, we can support each other's mental and emotional well-being.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month across the United States, and this year, it may be more important than ever to focus on how mental health impacts important areas of our lives. This includes our physical health, how we deal with stress, our relationships with others and how we feel, think and behave.
Mental Health Awareness Month was established in 1949 and this year, the theme is Together for Mental Health. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, in 2020, over 21% of adults aged 18 and older experienced some form of mental illness, representing an array of diagnoses, causes and types, ranging from mild to severe impairment in functional wellbeing for those impacted. According to the CDC, most Americans will suffer from a diagnosable mental illness at some point in their lives. Further, 20% of children currently or at some point during their life, will have a seriously debilitating mental illness.
Given that mental illness is so prevalent and closely linked to overall health and well-being, it is important to take the time to promote awareness of prevention, resources, support and treatment. On the national front, the funding and development of a national mental health emergency line aims to do just that by providing a point of access to support, resources and intervention for those in need of a mental health response.
The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill has long advocated for a national lifeline for crisis support to improve outcomes for and provide a greater number of people in crisis with a mental health response. The implementation of the 988 national line will take place on July 16, 2022. Starting on this date, whenever someone calls or sends a text to 988, the same as we use 911 for physical health emergencies, they will be routed to the local National Suicidal Prevention Lifeline (NSPL) in their community. While 988 will not take the place of the NSPL number, which is currently 1-800-273-5273 (TALK), a dedicated three-digit number will be easier to remember in an emergency and expanded federal funding will ensure that there are access points for care in all communities, some that have been underserved, even by the national lifeline. Additionally, 988 will not only provide emergency support for suicide, but it will also expand the national lifeline staff to be equipped to deal with a broader range of mental health emergencies and dispatch teams of mental health responders to those in crisis instead of law enforcement officers, which is now the common practice.
The development of this line follows what many believe is a national mental health emergency following the pandemic of past several years. The Surgeon General has gone so far as to say that there is a national mental health crisis among our youth. Prior to the COVID–19 pandemic, suicide rates and overall mental health concerns had already been on the rise for a decade. In 2018, for young adults ages 20-24, dying by suicide was the second leading cause of death. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry reports that due to the social isolation, fear, disruption, grief, and loss that the pandemic caused for so many children, in 2021 visits to the emergency room for mental health emergencies were up by 31% for children ages 12-17 and attempted suicides were up by 51% for girls in this same age group when compared to 2019 data. Proportionately, rates of depression, anxiety disorders, suicidality, loneliness and a host of other mental health issues continue to rise.
Within this backdrop, we know that there has been an overwhelming response to the call for action to implement a system of comprehensive mental health care that is accessible through primary health providers for children and adults. Funding for school based mental health programs for children, as well community mental health care for the uninsured and underinsured has increased. Efforts to raise awareness of substance misuse disorders and treatment, and the creation of the national lifeline for mental health emergencies like the 988 service are additional steps in the right direction. It is too early to measure the impact of these actions, but the hope is that mental health will begin to increase among all Americans, across the lifespan.
Michigan State University Extension has been doing its part for the past several years to offer educational programs and information for youth and adults to increase mental health and wellbeing with focus on four pillars that are associated with overall mental health and wellbeing. These four pillars are sleep quality, physical exercise, healthy diet, and mindfulness with the understanding that mental health is undeniably linked to physical health. Health behaviors impact emotional well-being and vice versa. A simple example of this is the long-known link between depression and heart disease. Studies show that 25-30% of patients with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), Coronary Artery Disease (CAD) and other heart related diseases suffer from depression. Further, when someone has been diagnosed with a depressive disorder, they have a 64% increased risk of heart attack and death due to a cardiac related disease. These rates are exponentially higher than rates of depression and death due to heart disease among the general population.
There are so many things we can do to maintain good mental health and avoid being diagnosed with a mental illness. One shift we can all make is to begin to view mental health the same as we do our physical health. When we get sick or become at risk for ailments such as diabetes, kidney disease or aching muscles, in most cases we would get it checked out by a professional and look for ways to heal. Maintaining our mental health works this same way. When we become at risk due to exposure to current or past stress, overuse drugs or alcohol as a way of coping or are going through a hard time, and notice changes in our thinking, feelings and behavior, those are our clues to get it checked out and look for ways to heal. Also, just as there are ways to maintain good physical health by eating a balanced diet and being active, there are routines we can do to maintain our mental health. These include practices like remembering to slow down and find our pause, treating ourselves, talking positively to ourselves, practicing gratitude and self-compassion, connecting with others, dancing, playing and listening to music. There are so many ways to be well, but it takes finding out what works for you and then practicing daily.
We can all do our part this month and beyond to look after our own mental health and wellbeing, and we may even be inspired to look out for others. Below are links to MSU Extension’s programs that support mental health including how to improve our sleep, get more exercise, reduce our risk of developing a chronic health condition and practicing mindfulness. All our programs are free, and most are offered both virtually and/or in-person.