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June 14th, 2021

mental illnessELLY GRIMM • Leader & Times


Statistics show 20.6 percent of U.S. adults, or, 51.5 million people experienced mental illness in 2019, and 5.2 percent of U.S. adults, or 13.1 million people, experienced serious mental illness in 2019. Statistics also show 16.5 percent of U.S. youth aged 6-17 experienced a mental health disorder in 2016 and 3.8 percent of U.S. adults experienced a co-occurring substance use disorder and mental illness in 2019. 

With such numbers, awareness is needed for mental health issues, and in 1949, May was designated as Mental Health Awareness Month to help with just that. 

“Mental Health Month raises awareness of trauma and the impact it can have on the physical, emotional, and mental well-being of children, families, and communities. Mental Health Month was established in 1949 to increase awareness of the importance of mental health and wellness in Americans' lives, and to celebrate recovery from mental illness,” noted. “Mental health is essential for a person's overall health. Prevention works, treatment is effective, and people can recover from mental disorders and live full and productive lives. Over the past 20 years, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and others within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and across the Federal Government, the public health community, and the general public have made efforts to increase the importance of understanding both prevention and treatment of mental health problems. These efforts have significantly improved the outlook for those affected by mental illnesses.”

The inspiration for Mental Health Awareness Month came from the Mental Health America (MHA) organization. 

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“Around the turn of the twentieth century, Clifford W. Beers, a recent graduate of Yale College and a newly-minted Wall Street financier, suffered his first episode of bipolar disorder (manic depressive illness) following the illness and death of his brother,” Mental Health America noted. “In the throes of his illness, Beers attempted to take his own life by jumping out a third story window. Seriously injured but still alive, Beers ended up in public and private hospitals in Connecticut for the next three years. While in these institutions, Beers learned firsthand of the deficiencies in care as well as the cruel and inhumane treatment people with mental illnesses received. He witnessed and experienced horrific abuse at the hands of his caretakers. At one point during his institutionalization, he was placed in a straightjacket for 21 consecutive nights. Upon his release, Beers was resolved to expose the maltreatment of people with mental illnesses and to reform care. In 1908, he published his autobiography, A Mind That Found Itself, which roused the nation to the plight of people with mental illnesses and set a reform movement into motion. In the book, Beers declared, ‘As I penetrated and conquered the mysteries of that dark side of my life, it no longer held any terror for me. I have decided to stand on my past and look the future in the face.’ On Feb. 19, 1909, Beers, along with philosopher William James and psychiatrist Adolf Meyer, embraced that future by creating the National Committee for Mental Hygiene, later the National Mental Health Association and what is known today as the Mental Health America.”

The timeline for other work done by the Mental Health America organization is quite extensive. 

“In 1917, at the request of the Surgeon General, Mental Health America drafted a mental ‘hygiene’ program, which was adopted by the Army and the Navy, in preparation for the First World War,” Mental Health America noted. “Then in 1920, Mental Health America produced a set of model commitment laws, which were subsequently incorporated into the statutes of several states. In 1930, Mental Health America convened the First International Congress on Mental Hygiene in Washington D.C., bringing together more than 3,000 individuals from 41 countries and then in 1947, the National Mental Health Act, which created the National Institute of Mental Health, passed as a result of Mental Health America’s advocacy. The 1960s were also active. In 1963, Congress passed the Community Mental Health Centers Act (CMHC), authorizing construction grants for community mental health centers.  Mental Health America played a key role in having this legislation enacted and signed by President Kennedy, and that act also called for deinstitutionalization and increased community services. Then in 1966, Mental Health America successfully advocated for inclusion of mandated mental heath services in Medicare and in 1969, the organization advocated for renewal of the CMHC Act and for increased appropriations.”

Mental Health America has also been active in more recent years. 

“In 2015, MHA released the first annual State of Mental Health in America report, establishing MHA’s goal of publishing a yearly snapshot of the prevalence of mental health conditions and a baseline for future legislation on mental health parity. And, with support from the Faas Foundation, MHA launched the Work Health Survey, a two-year research project on workplace mental health,” MHA noted. “In 2017, MHA created the National Certified Peer Specialist (NCPS) certification, the first national-level advanced peer support specialist certification. This credential seeks to create a uniform, high standard across the U.S. and expand peer support into working with commercial health insurance, private health systems, and practitioners.”

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) encourages continued support for those with mental health issues. 

“For 2021’s Mental Health Awareness Month NAMI will continue to amplify the message of ‘You Are Not Alone,’”  NAMI noted. “We will use this time to focus on the healing value of connecting in safe ways, prioritizing mental health and acknowledging that it’s okay to not be okay through NAMI’s blog, personal stories, videos, digital toolkits, social media engagements and national events. Together, we can realize our shared vision of a nation where anyone affected by mental illness can get the appropriate support and quality of care to live healthy, fulfilling lives – a nation where no one feels alone in their struggle.”

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