If today, someone that you loved told you they were suffering physically, what would you do? You’d likely start by addressing the problem, and asking where the source of their pain is. You’d then follow up by either taking them to the doctor, or even calling 911. Well, what would you do if someone told you they were suffering emotionally? Or even, that they were contemplating suicide? Would you know the right steps to take?
1 in 5 people suffer from mental illness, making up 51.5 million adults in the United states. Mental illnesses are actually the leading cause of disability worldwide, contributing to 800,000 suicides each year.
Unfortunately, 70% of those who struggle with their mental health do not seek help due to the stigma associated with professional treatment. The stigmatizing culture surrounding mental illness not only creates a barrier between those who are struggling and professional help, but also between their peers and loved ones.
We grew up with physical education that taught us how to take care of our bodies- but we lack mental health education in school systems, causing an insufficient level of mental health literacy across the globe. While the mental health crisis is international, America is one of the world leaders in suicide rates and substance overdoses — ranking #1 in suicides amongst the 11 highest income countries, and the 34th highest amongst all countries.
Not only is this mental health crisis affecting those who are struggling, but also the overall economy- leaving no citizen untouched. Statistics show that 40% of employees in the US workforce take off up to ten days a year a result of their mental illness, and $105 billion dollars is the cost of untreated mental illness each year as a result of lost productivity.
So what is the solution to this crisis? The obvious answer might seem to be that people who are struggling with their mental health, simply need to get help. But, it’s not always that simple. In addition to the fear of stigma associated with getting help- many individuals are also unable to afford mental health care. One in six US adults are unable to afford professional care- and those who can, often do not because of the shortage in access to professionals, as well as the difficulty to find one who takes their insurance.
The first step towards change involves raising mental health awareness, and making a conscious effort to prioritize mental health on the same level as physical health. We must give ourselves the opportunity to re-learn the invalid concept that our bodies can get sick, but our brain, the main console of our sequential functioning unit, cannot. This starts by having conversations about mental health, and normalizing it in a way that combats stigma. Doing this will allow those struggling to feel less isolated, and more comfortable seeking out treatment.
The second step, is that we must educate ourselves. We have no choice but to take ownership of our ability to help ourselves and one another. Mental health ranges on a spectrum from healthy, to normal stress and anxiety, to struggling, and eventually a state of crisis. The difference between normal stress and anxiety, and a diagnosable mental illness, is the level of impairment on daily life. It is essential for community members to be eqipped with the basic education that allows us to flag when we, or someone we love, fall into the category of struggling or crisis. We can do this through personal research, and taking mental health courses offered both online and in person. If you are a leader in your community, place of work, or organization, suggest planning or encouraging an interactive training or workshop.
Step three, is peer support and bystander intervention. These two key concepts are our best shot at overcoming the international mental health crisis that is not being addressed in this country. As we now know, mental illness is incredibly common- which means that the likelihood that one will interact with someone facing a mental health crisis in their lifetime is very high. These crises can include a panic attack, manic episode, experiencing psychosis, having suicidal thoughts or behaviors, and more. When we lack education about how to intervene in one of these situations, we are not only ill equipped to assist a loved one, but we are putting ourselves at risk. The more of us who are trained and educated in mental health intervention, the more allies are available to assist those who are struggling when professional help is not available.
For more information on mental health resources and education, check out www.mhgn.org or contact email@example.com.
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