May is Mental Health Awareness Month, also known as Mental Health Month. The observance was founded in 1949 by an organization called Mental Health America. Along with providers of mental health services around the U.S., Mental Health America shares the message that the issues around mental health and mental illness affect us all.
This year’s theme is “Fitness #4Mind4Body.” The idea is that mental health is affected by many physical factors including diet and nutrition, exercise, sleep and stress, and that positive changes can be made in all those areas.
Risk Factors for Mental Illness
Another of the important messages that is shared every year during Mental Health Awareness Month is that while mental illness can strike anyone, various factors increase a person’s risk. They include:
- Pregnancy and birth problems
- Family history of mental illness
- Family history of addiction
- Personal history of abuse
- Head trauma
- Certain medical conditions including thyroid disorders
- Lack of a support system
- Low socioeconomic status
- Dysfunctional family dynamics
- Involvement in negative peer groups
- Learning disorders
Knowing what these risk factors are can be helpful in different ways. For risk factors that can be changed, awareness is the first step in turning them into protective factors (see below). For risk factors that can’t be changed, such as family history, the knowledge that a person is more disposed to developing mental illness can help family and friends be more alert to recommend or arrange for mental health services if mental illness does develop.
Protective Factors for Mental Health
During Mental Health Awareness Month, participating organizations emphasize the importance of factors that can help protect people from mental illness and promote mental health and wellness. They include:
- Presence of a support network
- Willingness and opportunity to discuss problems with friends, family and mental health professionals
- Strong ties with immediate and extended family
- Healthy expectations for school/work performance and life in general
- Involvement in positive peer groups
- Involvement in community activities Good physical health habits
- Positive influence from religious or spiritual traditions
The encouraging thing about protective factors is that most of them involve choice, which means they can be initiated or amplified to provide great protection from mental illness. They can also have a positive impact even after a mental illness has developed.
Ending the Stigma of Mental Illness
Another important benefit of Mental Health Awareness Month is that the attention it brings to mental health issues helps to end the stigma of mental illness. Informational campaigns throughout the month provide strategies for eliminating the feelings of shame too often associated with mental health issues, making it easier for everyone to talk about these conditions.
It will be better for the individuals experiencing mental illness, and society as a whole, when it is universally understood that mental illness is no different than physical illness. Both types of conditions have a mix of known and unknown causes, treatments that are more effective in some cases than in others and a wide range of potential outcomes. And, all physical and mental health challenges are improved by compassion.
If you are in need of our mental health services, contact us online at communityreachcenter.org or by phone at 303-853-3500 Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. to learn more about our services. We have centers in the northside Denver metro area of Adams County including the cities of Thornton, Westminster, Northglenn, Commerce City and Brighton.