May Is Mental Illness Awareness Month

Mental illness is a far more common affliction than most people realize. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), about twenty percent of the US population experiences mental illness symptoms each year. That’s one in five people. About one in twenty people experience severe symptoms each year. NAMI states that about half the people who develop lifelong mental illness show symptoms by the time they are 14 years old.

These numbers should be getting far more attention than they are. Mental illness is a major health problem that results in billions of dollars of lost production and tens of thousands of premature deaths each year. It is an endless source of misery, yet we are reluctant to fund research and treatment. The attitude is often that a mentally ill person is just acting crazy and can be ignored. Some people assume that the mentally ill person likes his condition, or that he somehow deserves it. These attitudes keep many people from getting proper treatment, which can lead to worsening symptoms, physical illness and injury, and death.

Many mentally ill people use alcohol and drugs to try to relieve their symptoms. This tends to worsen their symptoms and create additional problems. People with mental illness often have trouble finding or keeping jobs, which can lead to homelessness or crime. Much as we might like to say that their illness is their problem, we are all harmed. It doesn’t have to be that way.

While in general mental illness is not curable, there are many effective treatments that can help patients lead a more productive, happier life. There is a wide range of medications for treating mental illness, and new ones are being developed all the time. Treatment can be effective. People can have their symptoms eased so that they can function. A mentally ill person can have a better life. But only if they get the care they need.

Unfortunately, we still treat mental illness as though it were a moral shortcoming or an amusing quirk. Some people think all you have to do is “snap out of it” or “try harder” and it will all go away. They simply do not understand the brutal struggle some people have to fight just to stay alive.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), almost a billion people worldwide were living with a mental disorder. That is a lot of people.

The fact is, mental illness is a widespread and dangerous affliction. We are not treating it adequately. More needs to be done. One way to help that to happen is to make more people aware of the severe problem mental illness is, and how it affects us all.

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