Mental health issues have long held stigmas, despite the fact that one-in-five US adults will suffer from a mental health condition during his or her lifetime, and countless family members and friends will be affected in the process.  Whether you suffer from mild depression or anxiety, or you’re helping a loved one cope with a more serious condition such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, you probably realize that it is not only the condition that’s difficult to live with, but also the social isolation.
This is why it’s so important to raise awareness about mental health, and do all you can to assist patients and loved ones who are trying to deal with mental health conditions. The month of May is dedicated to mental health awareness, but you can become informed and help spread awareness year-round. Here are a few things you should know to get started.
Mental Health Snapshot
According to the 2016 National Vital Statistics Reports issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 43,000 deaths each year are determined to be suicides.  This number increased 24 percent between 1999 and 2014, with rates growing in both female and male populations between the ages of ten and seventy-four. Suicide is now among the ten most common causes of death. This takes into account decreasing mortality rates in other areas while suicides rates concurrently increase. 
A contributing factor to suicide can often be serious psychological distress, which is defined as “mental health problems severe enough to cause moderate-to-serious impairment in social, occupational, or school functioning and to require treatment.” Serious psychological distress has also been linked to higher instances of heart disease and other disorders among adults. It has been reported that over 27 percent of adults over age 65 with psychological distress suffer from impairments to daily living. In addition, women of all ages were found to be more likely than men to suffer from serious psychological distress. 
Mental illness can derail a person’s life, and in addition, impact the lives of loved ones. At the very least, mental health issues affect the ability to live life to the fullest. At the worst, it may lead to fatal outcomes, either due to increased physical health risks or suicide.
In some cases, physical activity interventions can help with both the mental and physical obstacles associated with mental health disorders. However, mental health nurses and other health care workers must have proper support and resources to administer such plans for individual patients. 
Mental Health Conditions
Some of the most serious types of mental illness in the US include:
● Anxiety (affecting 42 million adults)
● Depression (impacting 16 million adults)
● Bipolar Disorder (with some 6.1 million adult sufferers)
● Schizophrenia (affecting 2.4 million adults) 
● Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) (currently affecting about 3 million, including one in 42 boys and one in 189 girls, with roughly 100 new cases diagnosed daily) 
Unfortunately, many conditions remain untreated. Approximately 50 percent of youths age eight to fifteen, and 60 percent of adults with mental illness, report they didn’t receive mental health services in the previous year.  This may be caused by the social stigma that is sometimes attached to asking for help, to lack of access to mental health services, to lack of insurance, or to any number of other factors.
Benefits of Mental Health Awareness Month
As instances of mental illness increase, so too does awareness. Recognition and education are important to removing the stigma that is often associated with mental health concerns. Mental Health Awareness Month not only helps people realize the many ways in which mental illness touches their own lives, but also helps them learn about available services, and discover ways to advocate for increased support.
Sadly, many Americans suffering from mental illness still lack access to care. States with the lowest workforce populations have, on average, only one mental health professional per 1,000 individuals. However, access to insurance that covers mental health issues is on the rise. Access to actual treatment has also grown.  This change can be attributed to access expansion under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that covers mental health and substance abuse services, along with rehabilitative and other services for those with behavioral health issues. Preventive services like behavioral assessments and screening for depression are often covered, as well. 
Fundraising and Participation
Mental Health Awareness Month provides an ideal opportunity for fundraising, community outreach, and holding awareness events. Groups like the National Mental Health Association, the American Mental Health Counselors Association, the Federation of Families for Children’s Mental Health, and many other similar organizations work tirelessly to advocate, education, and fundraise on behalf of those with mental health concerns. Proceeds are used, in part, to fund events like National Anxiety Disorders Screening Day, and National Mental Health Counseling Week, to cite just a few examples. 
In addition to organizations, citizens themselves can become involved in the cause of mental health. They can fundraise, stage or participate in events, and work to raise awareness within their own communities. This involvement may occur not just during Mental Health Awareness Month, but throughout the calendar year. 
Dedicated individuals may even go so far as to pursue careers such as nursing or health administration. In these roles, they will have the opportunity to raise awareness and offer support on a larger scale. A psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner (PMHNP), for example, is trained and qualified to offer a full range of psychiatric services, including:
● Health promotion and protection, disease prevention, and treatment
● Diagnosis of health status
● Care plan and treatment implementation
● Nurse practitioner services
● Teaching/coaching functions
● Monitoring and ensuring quality of health care
● Providing culturally diverse care 
With the proper education, you can help change the conversation around mental illness and its health care. In the proper role, you can focus on fostering or delivering preventive measures, help patients and loved ones find better ways to cope with mental health issues—and even one day be part of the workforce that helps mental illness shed its stigma and gain more powerful treatments.
Note from Regis College Professor Shari Harding
“PMHNPs are important advocates for individuals receiving mental health services and that one of the best parts of my job is teaching people about recovery and helping them in their recovery journey.” – Shari Harding, PMHNP, CARN-AP, CPRP Assistant Professor, Nursing PMHNP Program Director.
Psychiatric Mental Health nurse practitioners play a significant role in the modern health care system. Our online Master of Science in Nursing Psychiatric Mental Health program can help you develop your communication and therapeutic skills so you can assess, diagnose, manage, and treat mental illness in a variety of populations. It also prepares RNs to sit for the ANCC PMH-ANP exam upon graduation to immediately pursue a proactive and rewarding career as a psychiatric mental health Nurse Practitioner.
 National Alliance on Mental Illness
 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – Mental Health
 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – Increase in Suicide in the United States, 1999–2014
 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – Data Briefs
Mental Health Facts in America
 Talk About Curing Autism
 Mental Health in America
 U.S. Department of Health & Human Services
 National Alliance on Mental Illness
 Psychiatric-Mental Health NP Competencies