In Physical & Mental Health

The History and Efforts of Mental Health Awareness Month

There is no greater plague among the people of society than the one that exists within their own minds. That’s right, some of our greatest problems begin and end within our own mental capacities. Mental health issues are prevalent throughout the world because they do not exhibit any sort of preference for race, age, creed, or wealth. Mental health issues are varied in severity, symptom, and diagnosis. The worst thing about mental health issues is the stigma that comes with them. When we see someone with a physical disability we understand their pain. For mental issues there are often no physical symptoms visible at a glance. Let’s dive into why events like National Mental Health Awareness Month are an important function in order to help alleviate these massive problems.

Mental Health Awareness Month: A History

If you spend much time around the media then you will have probably come across Mental Health Awareness Month. The event was first started in 1949 as a way to reach out to people around the globe in order to educate them on mental health issues. The event runs through May and is backed by the National Institute of Mental Health. Every year the people behind MHAM pick a certain theme with which to send out their message. For this past year, 2014, the theme was to ‘Mind Your Health’.

Mental Health Awareness Month 2014: Mind Your Health

With the goal of education at the forefront of their efforts, the 2014 MHAM event focused on educating folks on their mind and body as one healthy unit. Information was made available via YouTube and other popular social media websites that informed people how to keep their body healthy in order to keep their mind healthy. This involved suggestions as to what sort of the suicide of Robin Williams, the Colorado Theater Shooting, and many other events.

Mental Health Awareness Month: A Mission Statement

MHAM could not be the successful event that it is without having a clear cut set of goals. For the last 70+ years the people behind Mental Health Awareness Month have been focused on the following:

  • Raising the bar in terms of care provided for those suffering from mental illness.
  • Providing proper legal and civil rights support to families who are dealing with mental illness.
  • Changing the general attitude and perception of those affected first hand by mental illness.
  • Promoting activities that will improve both the minds and bodies of their listeners in order to get healthy and stave off mental illness.

Common Mental Health Disorders

In 1949 the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) was created. It was employed with the help of President Truman’s efforts to pull the veil off mental illness. Without his signing of the National Mental Health Act in 1946 there would me no MHAM today. The goal of the National Institute of Mental Health was to research and discover how prevalent mental illness was and what problems were most commonly out there. Here is their list, as made available by Mental Health Awareness Month, of the most common disorders.

  • Anxiety

The single most common mental health problem in the world is anxiety. Anxiety is the physical response to stress, fear, and panic. Those who suffer from anxiety will frequently have ‘attacks’ that culminate in a rapid heartbeat and intense sweating. There is a difference between anxiety and an anxiety disorder. An anxiety disorder has the same symptoms as listed above but generally they are induced at situations that should not be as stressful.

  • Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are prevalent in both genders and across all ages despite what pop culture might insist. An eating disorder involves extreme emotions being applied to weight and body image. Common disorders are bulimia, anorexia, and binge eating. Eating disorders are not treated as seriously as they should be despite the fact that they can lead to a host of very serious physical repercussions later in life.

  • Mood Disorders

Have you ever heard of S.A.D? Seasonal affective disorder is a condition that causes the sufferers to feel extremely sad and depressed due to the weather. Mood disorders are very common among Americans today. Common disorders include depression, BPD, and cyclothymic disorder. There are many different triggers for these conditions but the symptoms are all similar. Extreme mood swings, inappropriate ‘highs’, and inappropriate ‘lows’ tend to be indicators of these disorders.

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder

Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is a mental health disorder that develops following a traumatic event. Combat veterans, police officers, and other people involved in violent and stressful situations will often develop the disorder. Physical assault, the loss of loved ones, and sexual assault are also pre-cursors to PTSD. PTSD is signified by a long lasting fright that is associated with the traumatic event in question. For example: A combat vet who returns from war that can’t stand watching war movies.

Spotting Mental Health Issues

While there are many different mental health disorders in the world, as evidenced by the national Mental Health Awareness Week, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t some common signs among them all. National Mental Health Awareness Month seeks to help its followers prevent and diagnose mental health illness before it can become too much of a problem. Here are a few things to watch out for if you fear that you, or someone you love, may be suffering from a disorder.

  • Mood Changes – Rapid and illogical changes in moods can be an early sign of mental health related issues. These mood swings could be symptomatic of larger issues like bipolar disorder, depression, or even general anxiety.
  • Erratic Sleeping Patterns – A stable sleep cycle is an indicator of body and mental health. When that sleep cycle is drastically changed it could signify larger problems. If you notice patterns of sleep becoming too long or too short then be aware of possible issues.
  • Lack of Pleasure – If enjoyable activities quit having a positive effect then it could possibly be symptomatic of depression. Many people who are dealing with depression lose track of what makes them truly happy. This could lead to extended periods of hopelessness and helplessness.
  • Failing Social Structure – One of the last common signs of mental health degradation is the lack of a social structure. Many people who are suffering from mental conditions will withdrawn into their own minds and lives in order to escape outside pressure. They’ll quit going to school, seeing their friends, or even talking to their family. This is a coping mechanism that does nothing but hurt the person suffering.

Navigating Barriers to Mental Help

One of the biggest reasons that suffering from mental health problems has become an epidemic in the world today is that there is a lack of acceptance and understanding from healthy peers. There are a few barriers involved that truly stop any sort of progress toward making mental health wellness accepted and focused on.

  • Attitude – Having a mental condition carries so strong a stigma that many people would rather deal with their problems than admit to having them. A 2009 study by Psychiatry Online showed that veterans who met the criteria for mental health conditions would refuse to seek help due to stigmas involved. Mental Health Awareness Month 2013 tried to shine a light on this issue, as it does every year.
  • Education – If there were a stronger focus in early education on the consequences and help needed for mental disorders then perhaps the attitude surrounding the problem could be fixed. Were people suffering from mental health problems not so heavily stigmatized by media and pop culture then they could play a role in fixing the issue themselves, as well.
  • Perception – Quickly think about the last person to suffer from a mental condition. Now think about the public reaction to their problem. In well liked celebrities, like Robin Williams, mental health gets a boost in coverage. Everyone loved Robin so they will be more sympathetic. But in the case of crime caused by mental health, or social ‘whackiness’ caused by mental health, we are far less lenient. Mental health is not a spectator sport. You should not pick how your sympathy is allotted.

There is a growing sense of community surrounding those that support Mental Health Awareness. Events like MHAM go a long way towards connecting people who would otherwise not have found anyone. Without their advocacy and work every May we would be hard pressed to see the fruits of progress in relation to mental illness. It was only 80 years ago that those suffering from mental illness were forced into shock treatment, invasive surgery, and lobotomies. With the general support of the public and their willingness to understand mental illness we can help eradicate it together.

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