May is Mental Health Awareness Month. It's a topic some people don't want to talk about, but it's a topic that needs to be addressed. For many years, people with mental health problems were not treated with respect and faced discrimination. That is changing, but more needs to be done to bring societal attitudes toward mental illness into the 21st Century. There are still many people reluctant to ask for help because of how they feel they will be perceived.
Mental illness is much more common than many people realize. There are all kinds of statistics about mental illness that one may cite. Here are some fast facts from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) https://www.nami.org/mhstats:
1 in 5 U.S. adults experience mental illness each year
1 in 20 U.S. adults experience serious mental illness each year
1 in 6 U.S. youth aged 6-17 experience a mental health disorder each year
50% of all lifetime mental illness begins by age 14, and 75% by age 24
Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among people aged 10-14
Statistics are one thing. However, stories are important for putting a face to mental health struggles. My mental health story began in my early teen years -- in that age 10-14 age group where, according to NAMI, suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death. I came much too close to being one of those statistics. My parents managed to find help for me. It took a while to find the right help, effective help, but I gradually began to find life worth living again. I managed to live and learn and become a productive citizen.
Our library houses a Suicide Prevention Collection, funded by the Somerset County Suicide Prevention Task Force. Click the image to see a listing of the titles.
Which isn't to say my mental health journey was over at that time. I experienced post-partum depression after my son's birth. I had another severe bout of anxiety and depression about 20 years ago. I still take antidepressants. But I'm alive and kicking, and trying to use my life to make the world and my community a better place. That effort includes offering helpful materials about mental health issues in the library I direct, for the community I serve.
Click the image to view a partial list of our more recently acquired materials about mental health
Part of the problem is, it's not always easy to get help when one needs it, even when a family seeks it out. There aren't enough mental health providers, not enough facilities, not enough dollars invested in mental healthcare. Statistics show that this is especially true in rural areas. Though the law says there is supposed to be parity in health insurance coverage for physical and mental health services, that does not appear to be the case in reality. According to NAMI, "Pennsylvanians are over 5x more likely to be forced out-of-network for mental health care than for primary health care -- making it more difficult to find care and less affordable due to higher out-of-pocket costs." (from https://www.nami.org/NAMI/media/NAMI-Media/StateFactSheets/PennsylvaniaStateFactSheet.pdf )
There is no easy solution to all the issues preventing people from getting help when they need it. However, learning and talking about mental health is an important first step. Information is a key to tackling any problem.
If you need help, ask for it!
The Library Lady