One out of 4 or 5 adults, at any given time, suffers from a mental health condition which can be called a mental illness. This means that the condition disrupts a person’s ability to function in at least one important area of the person’s life due to a problem associated with the brain, cognitive functioning, or emotions. Mental illness does not discriminate: Anyone, anywhere (yes, even you) can experience severe mental health problems, and we all know of someone who is suffering, even if we are unaware.
So, if mental illness does not discriminate, why do we care about raising awareness about minority mental health? It’s simple: Mental illness does not discriminate, but equal access to services is not available to everyone. I am not saying that this is caused by outward racial or cultural discrimination in any way. As a matter-of-fact, personal discrimination among the people in the USA has decreased significantly. What hasn’t decreased, though, is a disparity in income levels and access to full time employment where one might be afforded health insurance, proximity to the best health care facilities (for both physical and mental health), lack of adequate mental health education based upon the lack of education in parents and grandparents in families (who pass down what they know), and the ingrained cultural belief systems of many different cultures toward mental illness and/or seeking treatment for mental illness. All of these reasons make being aware of minority mental health a priority.
There are many things we can do to change this reality. While many of us do not have the power to create or change laws, make legal judgments, or donate a lot of money to build new facilities for mental health, we can all do a few small things which will make a significant difference, if we all work together. Here are a few ideas:
- Talk about mental health in our every day conversations. This will help to reduce the stigma associated with the idea of mental illness and make people more willing to ask for help.
- Ask your local school board to offer educational programs about mental health as part of the regular curriculum in order to assist families with mental health education for their children. We don’t know what we don’t know, after all: Teaching about Mental Health in schools may be the only way some people will ever hear about mental health issues and learn what to look for.
- Get certified in Mental Health First Aid or YOUTH Mental Health First Aid and let others know that the training and certification is available. Not only does this help educate people about mental illness, but it teaches people about a proven way to help others who might be suffering until they can get the help they need.
- Eliminate the risk factors in your life which make you and your family more susceptible to suffering from mental health problems. Learn what those risk factors are, recognize them, and make a point of avoiding them. Not only will this help to keep you healthier, but it will serve as a good example for others who might notice or ask why you did what you did.
- Add or increase the things in your life which provide protective factors which help to decrease your propensity to suffer from mental illness. While this is not 100% fail safe, adding things to the environment or acting in certain ways can lower your chances of suffering.
- Learn to identify the signs and symptoms of mental illness in both children and adults. The sooner we can recognize potential problems and get a person the help they need, the more likely that person will be able to successfully recover from their problems and live a more productive and happy life.
- Step in when you suspect that someone is suffering from a mental health crisis. Simply asking someone if they are thinking about suicide can save a person’s life. Noticing if abuse, neglect, or trauma are a part of a person’s life and helping them to get help can make a difference in getting the help one may need. Giving a person the right information about mental health or treatment options may be just the help a person needs to actually ask for and get help.
- Create a public service announcement and post it to a well-liked website. You may not feel good about talking to your peers, friends, parents, and others about what you notice, but you want to create awareness and help others. Creating a public service announcement which tells a story or creates an impact can be a way to direct people you care about toward education without having to personally call them out. Teachers: This might be a great project for your students, as well!
- Build a sculpture, paint a picture, write a story, make a poster, or do any type of artwork which tells a story about mental health or recovery and display it for all to see. I always say that life mimics art, but the truth is that art mimics life and can be displayed as education or examples of successful recovery. Just think about how many people you can touch or how many questions you may initiate from a creative display of your mental health artwork.
- Learn about suicide prevention. There are many suicide prevention programs which can enlighten you to the signs of suicidal thoughts and actions. Our favorites are QPR and Mental Health First Aid. Become aware!
- Discover cultural differences in mental health belief systems. Did you know that some cultures think that hallucinations are spirits communicating with holy people? IN the USA, we realize that hallucinations can be symptoms of very serious mental illnesses like bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and alcoholism, to name a few. Many cultures have differing views of both mental health conditions, signs and symptoms of mental illness. and treatment. Your understanding of this can make a difference on how you might approach a person who may be suffering.
- Be kind. Kindness may be the single most effective way to get people to talk with you about what they are experiencing, good or bad, in any given moment. Kindness may be the key to opening people’s hearts, minds, and actions toward others. Kindness is never wasted and is always a catalyst to positive action.
July is Minority Mental Health Awareness month. We use July as a reminder to all that everyone can become mentally ill, anyone can recover from mental health problems, and everyone deserves access to information and care about and for mental health. When we all have the same opportunities to get well and live productive lives, we all benefit from society.