Each year, May is mental health awareness month. The origin story of Mental Health Awareness Month highlights why we do what we do: People can and do recover.

History of Mental Health Awareness Month

Mental Health Awareness Month was first celebrated in 1949. It was commemorated by the Mental Health America organization, which was then known as the National Committee for Mental Hygiene and then later as the National Mental Health Association.

The association was founded by Clifford Whittingham Beers. Beers was one of five children in his family who all lived with mental illnesses. All of them went on to spend time in mental health hospitals, deemed “institutions” at the time. During the times Beers was admitted into the hospitals, he discovered first-hand the mental health field’s maltreatment and misunderstanding of a person with a mental illness.

Beers went on to graduate from Yale University’s Sheffield Scientific School in 1897 and authored “A Mind That Found Itself.” Beers founded the National Committee for Mental Hygiene with the goal to ensure mental health patients not only received the right care but also did not feel alone in their fight against mental illnesses.

Since 1949, annually a theme is selected to be celebrated throughout May. Mental Health America also shares free mental health toolkits for outreach activities. You can find these on their website – MHnational.org.

If there is anyone who is an example of someone being systemically discarded and misunderstood, who took control of their life and became determined to thrive with a mental health disorder, it was Clifford Beers.

Mental Health Awareness Month 2023 Theme

Look Around, Look Within

This theme challenges us to examine our world and how it can affect our overall health. Look around, look within — from our neighborhood to genetics, many factors come into play when it comes to mental health.

How Can I Celebrate Mental Health Awareness Month?

Talking about Mental Health

One of the best ways to celebrate Mental Health Awareness Month is by talking about it. The more you talk about it, the more normalized talking about mental health will become.

The stigma around mental health has caused not only delays in people who need treatment from seeking treatment, but the stigma can delay advances in treatment, research and even insurance coverage for the treatment of mental illnesses.

According to The National Council for Mental Wellbeing, the average delay between symptom onset and treatment for a mental illness is 11 years.

Mental illnesses are treatable, and people with mental illnesses can and do live fulfilling, productive and happy lives with the proper treatment and tools.

Talking about mental health is a great first step to reducing stigma. It’s important to know, what we say matters as well.

The Do’s and Don’ts of Talking about Mental Health
  • Don’t use stigmatizing labels like “crazy, psycho or mental.” These words are derogatory, offensive and insulting. If a person is struggling, they might fear being judged by others. Using these labels can make the person you are trying to help feel even worse.
  • Do use people first language. This is the difference between saying “He’s depressed” vs “He has depression.” “She’s Bipolar” vs “She has bipolar disorder” and “He’s schizophrenic” vs “He has schizophrenia.”
    • The best way I can explain this is using your elbow, for example. Take a moment, locate your elbow. Ask yourself “What is this?” Answer: It is an elbow. It is a part of you, a part of your body, you have an elbow and you also have many other parts to you as a whole.
    • I have an elbow, I am not an elbow. Someone may have schizophrenia; they are not schizophrenic. People are more than their diagnoses.
  • Don’t minimize what people are going through. It’s not easy for some people to talk about their experience with mental illnesses and by telling them “It could be worse,” “Just brush it off,” “You’re just having a bad week” or “I’m sure it’s nothing.” We are being unhelpful, and often hurtful.
    • Practice empathy by being mindful of what others could be experiencing. While you may not understand why they are distressed after listening to them, they are sharing their reality with you. They are the experts on their own experience.

How Can I Start the Conversation?

  • All it takes is a willingness to be open, honest and present with the people you care about. Find an appropriate place and time to talk, where the other person feels comfortable and safe.
  • Be direct. “I am someone who cares and wants to listen. What do you want me to know about how you are feeling?”
  • If you notice someone is struggling but aren’t able to speak to them in the moment, its ok to circle back. “The other day I noticed you seemed upset. I made a note that I wanted to talk with you. I’m really concerned about how you’re doing. So let’s talk.”
  • Give the other person a chance to choose when to talk. You can say “Can we grab some coffee and talk about it? When works for you?”
  • End the conversation by thanking them for sharing and allowing themselves to be vulnerable with you. Keep what they shared private. Talking about mental health issues can be difficult and uncomfortable for the one sharing their experience. Respect that they trusted you to talk with you by keeping it out of the water cooler gossip.
  • Follow up to let them know it was okay to open up, that you care and that you’re still a “safe” person to talk to about mental health.

Don’t Wait — Mental Health Help is Available

If you are having difficulty with managing your symptoms of a mental health disorder or substance use disorder, call now to discuss your treatment options at 727-322-3222.

About Windmoor Healthcare

Windmoor Healthcare of Clearwater offers quality care for those experiencing emotional problems in their life. We treat serious psychiatric, emotional and substance use issues.

We’re a full service psychiatric and substance use treatment facility with an amazing health staff trained to help you through any crisis. Our facility is designed to guide you through the process of intervention, assessment and treatment. Some of our programs to help accomplish this are our inpatient and outpatient treatment services. As well as our uniformed personnel program.

To schedule a no-cost assessment, please call 727-353-2482.