We’ve all heard of this term, but really understanding the underpinnings of mental health awareness is important for everyone. Although most people know the common mental health disorders, discerning the main causes, symptoms, and treatments is often confusing. In addition, how we understand mental health continues to evolve with emerging research.
What Is Mental Health Awareness?
Mental health awareness refers to strengthening how people identify, understand, and treat various mental health conditions. It has sociopolitical, interpersonal, and cultural roots.
Every May, the United States honors Mental Health Awareness Month. This month has been celebrated since 1949, and it’s celebrated with various local events, media coverage, and specific mental health organizations. Each year, the campaign is different, but the intention to raise awareness and fight stigma remains the same.
Mental health awareness has become increasingly important in schools and workplaces. We now know that mental health doesn’t discriminate and that people of all ages, demographics, and lifestyles can be impacted.
Why Is Mental Health Awareness So Important?
Although we’ve made tremendous strides in how we talk about and approach mental health, there is no doubt that pervasive stigmas still exist. Many people fear disclosing certain conditions, and it’s not uncommon for someone to hesitate before admitting they take psychiatric medication or go to therapy.
Stigmas may be more prevalent in some areas or cultures than others. But it’s certainly true that people are generally more likely to have a negative connotation toward a mental health issue than a physical health issue.
Mental health awareness is important because it neutralizes conversations. Nobody chooses to have a mental health condition, but certain symptoms can feel frustrating, isolating, shameful, and downright debilitating. Awareness can help people get the right treatment they need, and it can also strengthen relationships within communities.
How Individuals Can Promote Mental Health Awareness
Awareness and advocacy can occur on individual levels. Even small steps in the right direction can produce significant changes. Here are some strategies you can consider:
Keep educating yourself: There are many myths and misconceptions about mental health. Separating the facts from fiction helps you to become more knowledgeable, and it allows you to be more supportive to the people you care most about.
Use appropriate language and terminology: Preferred language is an important component of mental health awareness. For example, instead of saying, “He’s schizophrenic,” you should say, “He has schizophrenia.
Aim to truly support friends or family members: If you know someone experiencing a mental illness, commit to being a dedicated ally. Be curious, supportive, and empathic to their needs. Aim to be there unconditionally and without judgment.
Get involved with a mental health non-profit organization: Many organizations are working hard to research and treat various mental health conditions. Some organizations are dedicated to raising awareness, which is also important. Commit to getting involved- even if that means just donating money or spending one day a month volunteering.
Model taking care of your own mental health: It’s important that you also take time to pay attention to your emotional needs. If you struggle with your own mental health condition, prioritize self-care and treatment as you need it. Reach out when you need support, and implement healthy coping skills to manage stress.
Be mindful of your own biases and stereotypes: We all have preconceived notions about human behavior, and these notions are shaped by upbringing, culture, and family influence. There’s nothing inherently wrong with having these thoughts, but you should be aware of how they affect the way you perceive yourself and others. If you want to increase your mental health awareness, you must be more aware of how your own subjective opinions may sometimes get in the way.
Connect with other allies and advocates: You’re not alone in trying to make the world a better place. Find other supportive people who care about the same causes you do. You may find these individuals while volunteering, but you can also look to online forums or groups.
Get involved on social media: You can raise awareness about mental health concerns simply by liking, following, and sharing content that positively supports advocacy. Likewise, if you notice problematic language or hate rhetoric online, consider saying something.
How Loved Ones Can Promote Mental Health Awareness
If you love someone experiencing a mental health condition, you may want to know how you can get more involved in helping them. First, it’s important to be aware of what you can and can’t control. For example, you aren’t responsible for causing or fixing how someone feels. But you can control how you respond to their needs and show your support. Here are some other tips to keep in mind:
Educate yourself about their condition: As much as possible, aim to learn more about their specific issue. Don’t assume that research alone means you will fully understand their experience. But having some insight into the story can help you be more understanding and empathetic to their needs.
Be mindful of trying to provide solutions: Part of mental health awareness is knowing that jumping in to try to fix a problem often makes people feel worse. As a loved one, the best thing you can do is listen actively and compassionately.
Only offer practical support when asked: If someone asks you for help directly (i.e. they want guidance with specific tasks or answers to particular questions), then practical support can be helpful. Let your loved one know you are there if they’re struggling.
Offer to help them identify treatment options: Seeking treatment can be overwhelming, and many people feel discouraged by the process altogether. As a loved one, you can show your support by examining various options with them. You might also offer to drive them to various appointments or help fund some of the treatment costs.
Don’t make their mental health issue the sole focus of your relationship: No matter what your current relationship dynamic looks like, be mindful of spending too much time focusing exclusively on someone else’s mental health symptoms. This can make them feel like they’re being micromanaged, and it can also create a pattern of codependent behavior.
Get involved in your own advocacy: Loved ones can also make great mental health allies within their greater communities. After all, you know, first-hand, what it’s like to love someone with a specific mental health issue. That love- and your experiences- can be a catalyst for raising more awareness.
How Organizations Can Promote Mental Health Awareness
Workplace mental health has become more important than ever before. It’s important that employers look after their employees’ emotional well-being and strive to maintain an inclusive, supportive workplace. It’s also essential for companies to recognize when they overwork their employees or otherwise fail to help them succeed in their given tasks.
Companies can honor mental health awareness in several ways, including:
Integrating mental health from onboarding and orientation: Employers can communicate that they value mental health awareness right from the beginning. This may include discussing how they prioritize employees looking after their emotional needs, and it can also entail reviewing workplace benefits tailored to mental health.
Asking employees for input: It’s important for managers to regularly solicit feedback from their teams. What do your employees value the most in the workplace? Do they want more flexibility with their schedules? Are the workloads manageable? Is there sufficient training and resources available? An optimal work environment doesn’t inherently fix mental health problems, but it can prevent certain issues from becoming even more exacerbated.
Be selective when choosing health insurance plans: Company owners and human resources managers can prioritize mental health treatment by carefully evaluating various coverage options for their employees. Look for plans that offer a comprehensive list of in-network providers and substantial coverage for out-of-pocket mental health providers.
Offer an employee assistance program: An EAP can be a great asset for promoting mental health to your team. These work-based interventions can help employees with specific challenges, including legal problems, substance misuse, relationship difficulties, and adjustment concerns.
Emphasize the need for mental health days: Just as employers should vouch for people taking sick days when they feel unwell, the same should apply to mental health days. Remember that employees who take time off tend to be more productive and engaged in their work overall.
Modeling self-care and work-life balance: When employers demonstrate looking after their own needs, they send a strong message to their company. Through their actions, they show that it’s okay to be a human and that it’s important to remember that performance shouldn’t trump emotional well-being.
What Does The Future of Mental Health Awareness Look Like?
Nobody can say for sure, but as we become more aware of the impact of mental health on individual and societal functioning, it’s likely that awareness will continue to be vital. Here are some predictions of what might lie ahead.
More technological advancements: There’s no doubt that technology will continue to intersect with all healthcare treatments. It’s likely that artificial intelligence (AI), telehealth services, virtual reality, and various mobile technologies will integrate with different mental health services.
Advancements in neuroscience and genetics: Neuroscience, which continues to shape our understanding of mental health, will likely dramatically evolve over the next century. Research also suggests that genes can account for over half of all personality and development, and it’s probable that there will be more advancements in this field as well.
Greater accessibility: The rise of telehealth services has made mental health treatment more convenient and accessible to everyone. Likewise, insurance companies can no longer deny coverage to someone with a preexisting health condition, including certain mental health issues.
More early intervention: Children absolutely show signs of mental health issues, and an entire section of the DSM is dedicated to childhood disorders. Research continues to support that people who receive earlier intervention yield better treatment results. This applies to all conditions, but it requires that schools, healthcare companies, and communities at large agree on implementing these principles.
Continued efforts to reduce stigmas: Because mental health awareness is becoming more widespread, we should be able to expect that stigmas will continue to decrease. There will also be more societal efforts to debunk myths and misconceptions. Overall, people may become more tolerant of both themselves and other people’s experiences.
Mental health awareness is a catch-all term that describes the efforts individuals, communities, and employers can make to increase conversations about mental health issues. We have made significant progress in how we talk about mental health in the past few years, but we all still have a long way to go. Remember that any step in the right direction can yield tremendous benefits. As an ally, you may have more of an ability to impact others than you realize.