May is Mental Health Month – Risky Business Theme Highlights When Behaviors, Habits May Be Unhealthy

May is Mental Health Month (MHM) was started 68 years ago by Mental Health America (MHA) to raise awareness about mental health conditions and the importance of good mental health for everyone. This year’s theme for MHM—Risky Business—is a call to educate ourselves and others about habits and behaviors that increase the risk of developing or exacerbating mental illnesses, or could be signs of mental health problems themselves.

When you or someone you love is dealing with a mental health concern, sometimes it’s a lot to handle. It’s important to remember that mental health is essential to everyone’s overall health and well-being, and mental illnesses are common and treatable. Yet, people experience symptoms of mental illnesses differently—and some engage in potentially dangerous or risky behaviors to avoid or cover up symptoms of a potential mental health problem. Activities like compulsive sex, recreational drug use, obsessive internet use, excessive spending, or disordered exercise patterns can all be behaviors that can disrupt someone’s mental health and potentially lead them down a path towards crisis.

This May, MHA is encouraging people to educate themselves about behaviors and activities that could be harmful to recovery – and to speak up without shame using the hashtag #riskybusiness – so that others can learn if their behaviors are something to examine. Posting with our hashtag is a way to speak up, to educate without judgment, and to share your point of view or story with people who may be suffering—and help others figure out if they too are showing signs of a mental illness. Last year, MHM materials were seen and used by 22.3 million people, with more than 8,500 entities downloading MHA’s tool kit.

“When we engage in prevention and early identification, we can help reduce the burden of mental illness by identifying symptoms and warning signs early—and provide effective treatment Before Stage 4,” said Paul Gionfriddo, MHA president and CEO. “We need to speak up early and educate people about risky behavior and its connection to mental illness—and do so in a compassionate, judgement-free way.”

MHA has developed a series of fact sheets (available at www.mentalhealthamerica.net/may) on specific behaviors and habits that may be a warning sign of something more, risk factors and signs of mental illness, and how and where to get help when needed. MHA has also created an interactive quiz at www.mentalhealthamerica.net/whatstoofar to learn from Americans when they think specific behaviors or habits go from being acceptable to unhealthy.

Mental Health Advocacy Must Remain A Top Priority

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As of 2013, May is officially mental health month which was set in motion by President Obama, and it has made a huge impact in only a couple of years. This movement has caused other public figures to jump on board to help raise awareness to combat the stigmas associated with seeking treatment. Advocating for mental health awareness is a mindset that we all should aspire to follow.

Although mental health awareness month is officially over, we must be diligent throughout the year in creating awareness on mental illness. Mental health stigmas are a real problem, and they still exist all over the world. In America alone, there are about 8 million people suffering from severe mental illnesses and only around half of those are treated.

But why should we fight these mental health stigmas?

Fear of discrimination and the attached stigmas often keep sufferers and their families from facing their mental health problems. This deters them from seeking help, which is very problematic. Mental health is just as important as physical health.  Additionally, access to mental health treatment and insurance coverage can also be a barrier to seeking treatment. Mental health treatment should be viewed similarly to how physical ailments are addressed because the two are often times entwined.

Fortunately, as awareness of mental health issues spreads and stigmas recede, more and more medical professionals are choosing careers in mental health. We are learning more about the benefits of helping people care for their mental health, including longer life expectancy, increased productivity, improved financial stability, and happier personal lives. As a result, public and private organizations are recognizing the importance of providing access to affordable mental health care. In the U.S., this progress is evident in the inclusion of mental health care coverage requirements in the Affordable Care Act. Read More

What can we do to combat these backwards beliefs?

Simply put, we need to advocate for change. If someone refers to a person with a mental illness as ‘crazy’ or ‘insane’ it is completely justifiable to point out that it is not alright to use such shaming language. It is important to question how using those kinds of harsh words can segue into negativity and generalizations that are frankly not true.

Online communities such as BringChange2Mind and StigmaFighters offer those struggling with mental problems a judgment-free outlet for taking the steps towards acceptance of themselves and overall wellness. Although May is over, advocating for mental health equality must remain a top priority. We all deserve to live happily and feel healthy.

Be a voice of reason by advocating mental health all year-long and you will make the world a much better place for literally millions.

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