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The Importance of Mental Health Awareness: A Path to Empowerment and Understanding

Mental health is a critical component of overall health, encompassing our emotional, psychological, and social dimensions. It influences how we react to stress, behave, relate to others, perform at work, and life trajectory.

Why is mental health important? Because of the role it plays in our overall well-being throughout our lives – from childhood, through adolescence, and adulthood. 

Unfortunately, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), one in eight people globally live with mental health conditions. In the U.S., the numbers are higher. Data from Mental Health America suggests that nearly one in five Americans have a diagnosable mental health condition and 46% will meet the criteria for a diagnosis sometime in their life.

Many of these people are stigmatized or discriminated against, while others can’t get the care they need. 

Everyone has the right to a high standard of mental health, access to care, and inclusion in the community and the workplace.

In this blog, we explore the importance of mental health awareness and how it can be promoted through individual actions and workplace initiatives.

Understanding Mental Health

Group of people discussing mental health topics

Mental health affects everyone. It is core to our well-being: our emotions, thoughts, feelings, problem-solving skills, coping skills, and outlook on life. Left untreated, mental health issues can lead to reduced quality of life, broken relationships, substance abuse, absenteeism, loss of employment, physical health problems, and suicide.

Importantly, mental health is different from mental illness, although the two are increasingly intertwined. Mental illness or a mental disorder is a condition or medical problem that impacts how the brain functions and interferes with everyday activities. Examples of mental illness include anxiety disorders and clinical depression, PTSD, schizophrenia, and mood disorders like bipolar disorder. Mental illness can be caused by child abuse, witnessing violence, trauma, ongoing medical conditions, alcohol or drugs, and biological factors.

Mental illness may be episodic or permanent and people with mental illness may enjoy periods of good mental health, especially if their condition is managed. 

Anyone can have mental health issues, but that doesn’t mean they have mental illness. Similarly, even individuals who don’t have mental illness can experience mental health issues – often caused by a major life event, stress, or burnout. 

Achieving and maintaining mental health isn’t a one-time process. It requires a holistic, long-term view of health that includes emotional, psychological, and social well-being – at work, at home, and in the community.

The Stigma Around Mental Health

Speaker addressing a workshop on mental health stigma

Despite the importance of mental health, mental health issues such as depression or anxiety often have a stigma attached to them

The stigma around mental health often comes from a lack of understanding or misconception about mental illness. Individuals with mental health issues may also experience self-stigma and shame about their condition. As a result, they may be deterred from seeking help. According to the American Psychiatry Association (APA), more than half of people with mental illness don’t receive help for their disorders or they delay treatment due to concerns about being treated differently or losing their jobs or livelihood

A recent poll also found that mental health stigma is a major challenge in the workplace, with half of workers concerned about discussing mental health issues at their jobs.

The APA defines three different types of stigma:

  • Public stigma: This involves negative or discriminatory attitudes that others have about mental health or illness.
  • Self-stigma: Refers to internalized shame by individuals with mental illness. 
  • Institutional stigma: Organizational or government policies that limit opportunities for people with mental illness, such as a lack of mental health resources relative to other forms of healthcare.

Mental health awareness is critical to understanding the impact that mental health has on daily life and reducing the stigma and discrimination associated with it. 

The Role of Mental Health Awareness

Awareness campaigns can raise awareness of mental health, educate the public to changing perceptions, improve access to mental health services, and promote supportive environments.

For instance, the WHO designates October 10 as World Mental Health Day and collaborates with governments and partners to organize mental health awareness initiatives, advocacy, and actions. The campaign also uses social media, using the hashtag #MyTipsForMentalHealth, to drive engagement and influence public opinion.

Meanwhile, in the U.S., Mental Health America works to advance the mental health and well-being of all people through public education, research, advocacy, public policy, and direct service. Since 1949, the nonprofit has designated May as Mental Health Month – a core initiative in promoting mental health, well-being, and illness prevention. Each year the organization releases new resources to help individuals, families, workplaces, and communities learn how modern life affects mental health, build a coping toolbox, and advocate to improve mental health.

Across the country, state and local governments also work to raise awareness about mental health and available mental health services. For example, the California Department of Health Care Services (DHCS) honors Mental Health Awareness Month by showcasing the state’s culturally competent, prevention, and early intervention resources as well as those of individual counties in the state.

Brands are also supporting shifts in attitudes with successful mental health campaigns targeted at employees and consumers, including:

  • TikTok’s Mental Health Media Education Fund has donated more than $2 million in ad credits to organizations working on mental well-being, including the Alliance for Eating Disorders, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Crisis Text Line, and others. 
  • Maybelline’s Brave Together initiative is dedicated to destigmatizing and combating mental health issues among youth.
  • Dove’s Self Esteem Project centers on promoting body confidence and creating a safer social media environment.
  • Saks Fifth Avenue’s Mental Health Awareness Month is a multifaceted campaign that spotlights the importance of mental health and raises funds for Saks’ nonprofit partners to help support the emotional and mental well-being of the communities they serve. 

These and many other campaigns have brought about positive changes in reducing stigma, promoting self-care, and connecting people to support and counseling. 

Promoting Mental Health Awareness

High-five celebrating mental health awareness achievements

There are many actions that individuals and employers can take to promote mental health awareness. Let’s take a look. 

Individual Actions

What can individuals do to raise awareness for mental health? 

There are many opportunities, including fundraising, community and workplace outreach, and awareness events, particularly during Mental Health Month. 

For instance, Mental Health America provides a toolkit featuring “Ways to Give” and “Get Active” suggestions. Examples of how individuals can contribute include:

  • Pledge a donation.
  • Shop the store.
  • Sign up for The Advocacy Network (the movement has had a major impact in protecting America’s mental health through legislative advocacy, including victories like the Affordable Care Act and Equity Act).
  • Send an advocacy letter to Congress to support mental health initiatives.
  • Participate in programs, including the Young Leaders Council, comprised of individuals aged 18-25 who have developed programs and initiatives to fill gaps in community mental health support and resources, or become a Youth Policy Accelerator, where participants identify and create policy solutions through a two-month intensive program.

Individuals can also support friends and family dealing with mental health issues. Check out these resources, including the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline

Alternatively, engage with and advocate alongside mental health advocates on social media

Community and Workplace Initiatives

Organizations, schools, and workplaces can foster a supportive environment for mental health.

A survey by UGK found that mental health is so important in the workplace that 81% of employees worldwide would prioritize good mental health over a high-paying job and 64% said they’d take a pay cut for a job that better supports their mental wellness

Initiatives such as implementing a mental health policy, wellness programs (look for ideas here), and resources that support the well-being of workers can help employers prioritize mental health. There are many resources online, including Mental Health America’s workplace mental health resources for employers

The U.S. Department of Labor Mental Health at Work resources page is also useful. It includes tools and tips to support workplace mental health, things employers are required to do by law, and resources for workers and young people. The National Safety Council is another one to bookmark.

Schools must also help improve awareness of and access to mental health services. According to the National Research Council and Institute of Medicine, up to one in five children living in the U.S. experience a mental disorder every year. By helping students who are experiencing mental health issues, schools can make them feel safe and improve their academic and behavioral performance. Available resources include those offered by SchoolSafety.gov, Youth.gov, and The Check-In Project, as well as state, local, and public school system websites.

Overcoming Challenges in Mental Health Advocacy

Advocating for mental health has its challenges. Insufficient funding, policy gaps, and stigma make it harder to spread the word, lessen stereotypes, and make it difficult for people to get help. Below are some common challenges and strategies to address them:

  • Policy gaps: Inadequate or outdated policies can impede progress in mental health care delivery, workforce well-being programs, and access to care. To overcome these, individuals and employers can work with advocacy groups, healthcare providers, and community members to identify areas for improvement and share evidence-based strategies for policy change. 
  • Stigma and discrimination: Stigma can prevent individuals and their families from seeking help, accessing the right services, and ensuring successful outcomes. Public awareness campaigns and education can help promote understanding of mental health issues. Open dialog with mental health professionals, community leaders, employers, education institutions, and non-profit organizations can also help combat stigma.
  • Shortage of mental health professionals: A shortage of mental health professionals, particularly in underserved areas, can limit awareness and access to care. Communities and political leaders must advocate for investments in the recruitment, training, and retention of mental health providers. 
  • Funding: Prioritizing advocacy for heightened funding across governmental tiers is crucial. Presenting studies and data demonstrating that investments in mental health can enhance productivity, decrease healthcare expenses, and alleviate pressure on social services is essential.

How You Can Contribute

Mental health and well-being are fundamental rights for everyone. Whether at work, school, in communities, or at home, everyone plays a part in raising awareness about mental health and making our environments more inclusive for those facing mental health struggles.

This could involve volunteering, educating others, or supporting mental health initiatives. By working together, we can make our communities healthier. We can break the stigma around mental illness, foster understanding, and ensure everyone can access the support they need without fear of judgment or discrimination.

Conclusion: Continuing the Importance of Mental Health Awareness

The importance of mental health awareness cannot be overstated. Every setting, interaction, community, or place of learning or work has an impact on everyone’s well-being. 

Mental well-being must be prioritized in the workplace, schools, and at home. Stigma and discrimination must be eradicated. And funding and policy put in place to ensure equitable access to mental health resources and care, wherever possible. 

Acuity Can Help

Acuity International has extensive experience in ensuring individuals, organizations, and communities have access to the mental health resources and care – wherever and whenever they are needed. Offered as part of our one-stop occupational health and wellness services, Acuity’s behavioral health and mental health case management services include mental health screening, advocacy, education, non-medical counseling, treatment plans, fit-for-work and return-to-work evaluations, assistance with workers’ compensation, and more.

Learn more about our comprehensive care services or contact us today.

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