There are many reasons to celebrate in the month of May-   May Day, Cinco de Mayo, Graduations, and Mother’s Day.  All of these are significant holidays, people talk about them, make plans, throw parties and celebrate.  But there is one other important event in the month of May.    Since 1949, Mental Health Awareness Month has been observed in May by reaching millions of people in the United States through the media, local events, and screenings.

There are several significant organizations looking to change the conversation and direction and culture around mental illness.  Most recently The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge along with Prince Harry worked on a campaign titled “Heads Together” and shined a spotlight on mental health awareness through the London Marathon.  “Campaign to Change Direction” is an effort to change the culture of mental health in America so that all of those in need receive the care and support they deserve. The Campaign encourages all Americans to pay attention to their emotional well-being.

These organizations have used celebrities and nobility to bring about awareness and normality to the conversation around mental health.  But it starts with us- you and I.  It starts by recognizing the common symptoms and encouraging the help needed without judgement or prejudice.

Five signs of emotional distress:

  • Change in personality
  • Agitation
  • Withdrawal from others
  • Poor Self Care
  • Feelings of Hopelessness

If you see any of these signs it’s possible the individual is struggling with mental health.  You can help by connecting with them.  A conversation to let them know you are concerned and willing to help can decrease the stigma associated with talking about feelings of distress.  It just takes one moment of compassion and empathy- a kind word- reaching out to make a connection and help eliminate the stigma around mental health and seeking treatment.  Nearly 1 in 5 adults in any given year suffer from mental illness, but of those only 40% receive treatment.

There are other ways to get involved .  Consider joining the local chapter of NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness).  Harrisonburg- Rockingham has a chapter that meets monthly at Summit House.   You may also want additional training or education- check out Mental Health First Aid.  This course is sponsored by the National Council of Behavioral Health and is designed to spread education and provide a common language to discuss mental health issues.

In order to put our #headstogether to end stigma and #changementalhealth we must first be willing to #startaconversation with individuals who are suffering.  So let’s talk about mental health! Happy Mental Health Awareness Month!  That’s something to celebrate!

Heather Rupe
Senior Manager of Community Recovery Services