What do filters, angles, and lighting refer to? If you were to ask somebody this question 20 years ago, they may have no idea. Today, it is fairly clear that these terms refer to snapping and posting the best photos on social media. Platforms, such as Instagram and Facebook, have given people the opportunity to showcase their best self. But, do the photos always resemble reality? Social media is not intended to display the tough reality of day-to-day living filled with hardships and obstacles. What would happen if social media was, in fact, used to depict what life is really like for millions of individuals in America?
Mental Health America (MHA) has been the leading organization of observing Mental Health Awareness Month during the month of May. Every year MHA decides on a different campaign theme and uses its platform to bring awareness to mental health, its consequences, and how to eliminate stigma from mental illness. Last year, the theme focused on what mental illness feels like. Individuals and groups from all over the country used social media to show what mental illness looks and feels like by using the hashtag “#mentalillnessfeelslike.” Sharing these photos and stories allowed many individuals to feel support they may not have felt otherwise. MHA offers various tools and resources for people to contact mental health professionals, educate themselves about different mental illnesses, and learn how to maintain a healthy mental well-being.
This May, it’s all about risky business. MHA believes it is “important to educate people about habits and behaviors that increase the risk of developing or exacerbating mental illnesses” (Mental Health America, 2017). The main risk factors are risky sex, prescription drug misuse, internet addiction, excessive spending, marijuana use, and troublesome exercise patterns. When risk factors go unnoticed, they have the potential to progress into mental health disorders. Untreated mental health issues have “significant negative consequences on educational, economic, and social outcomes” (Walther, Abelson, & Malmon, 2014). Mental Health Awareness Month is focused on raising awareness of these risk factors in order to support people to seek help early before a mental health issue arises.
In addition and in collaboration with raising awareness of mental health risk factors, reducing stigma is equally important. One of the biggest barriers to seeking treatment is the stigmatization of mental health issues. Imagine if telling a friend you were struggling with depression or anxiety was as easy as telling them you have a cold. They’re both biological and faultless, so why is one so much more of a struggle than the other? The level of stigmatization of mental health disorders is one of the main reasons individuals delay or completely avoid seeking treatment. Mental Health Awareness month will hopefully educate others about the cause, symptoms, and treatment of mental health issues, as well as challenge the stigma.
Fortunately, schools and workplaces have begun to make mental health a priority by investing in trainings and organizations. Active Minds is a popular college club dedicated to raising awareness of mental health problems and eliminating stigma for the past decade. According to Walther, Abelson, and Malmon (2014), the Active Minds organization has focused on training college-age students to recognize warning signs of mental health issues and identify professional resources. In a study by Drum et al. (2009) on the social aspect of suicidal ideation, research found that two thirds of students who disclosed their suicidal thoughts first told a peer. University students play a central role in normalizing mental illness, helping friends seek professional help, and promotion of healthy mental well-being.
In addition to college campuses, workplaces are increasing their mental health literacy by implementing various mental health trainings. These trainings are designed to increase leaders’ knowledge and attitudes toward mental health. Because stress and mental health problems are highly correlated with low workplace productivity, mental health trainings are crucial (Dimoff, Kelloway, & Burnstein, 2016). Trainings often focus on how to manage employees with mental health problems, increasing knowledge about these issues, and self-efficacy. Recent research has found that a three-hour training program for workplace leaders better equips them to recognize and respond to warning signs and provide appropriate referrals to struggling employees.
Mental health awareness has grown exponentially over the past decade, and there is always more we can learn and know about strong mental health. Take note of Mental Health America’s monthly focus on risky behaviors that may lead to mental health disorders. It is imperative to the well-being of the country to make it easier to talk about mental health issues and seek help for them.
Dimoff, J. K., Kelloway, E. K., & Burnstein, M. D. (2016). Mental health awareness training (MHAT): The development and evaluation of an intervention for workplace leaders. International Journal Of Stress Management, 23(2), 167-189. doi:10.1037/a0039479
Drum, D., Brownson, C., Burton Denmark, A., & Smith, S. (2009). New data on the nature of suicidal crises in college students: Shifting the paradigm. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 40, 213–222.
Walther, W. A., Abelson, S., & Malmon, A. (2014). Active minds: Creating peer-to-peer mental health awareness. Journal Of College Student Psychotherapy, 28(1), 12-22. doi:10.1080/87568225.2014.854673