Mental Health Awareness: Past, Present, & Future

Grow the Conversation

In 1949, Mental Health America (MHA) championed the beginning of what has become a nationwide movement towards bettering mental health culture. Throughout the years, MHA has covered a range of topics, 2018’s being Fitness #4Mind4Body, which emphasizes looking at a person holistically, rather than separating physical from mental health. In previous years, MHA had more strategy-based topics like 2008’s Pathways to Wellness, focusing on concrete approaches to bettering wellness.

Notably, celebrities, public figures, and national associations, such as Demi Lovato, Stephen Curry, and the National Basketball Association, have recognized the importance of this mental health messaging. They have joined efforts to destigmatize mental health through their own posts, fundraisers, and outreach. Moreover, during his term, President Barack Obama formally proclaimed May to be National Mental Health Awareness Month, pushing the important conversations surrounding mental health out of doctor’s offices and into the public. Since then, Mental Health Awareness Month continues to raise awareness about all things mental health, consistently pointing to staggering statistics that highlight mental health as a human, rather than just healthcare issue.

From Conversation to Action

Efforts such as Mental Health Awareness Month are instrumental in destigmatizing mental illnesses. However, the conversation surrounding mental health should not and does not stop as May comes to a close. As more and more people become comfortable talking about mental illness, we can begin to shift towards accomplishing concrete goals to bettering mental health care.

For example, what would it look like if companies incorporated employee well-being into definitions of productivity? Could schools redefine student wellness and resilience in order to better support students’ ability to pursue higher education? What if children had role models demonstrating that mental health is not an individual burden, promoting the idea that we should all be looking out for one other?

A few grassroot organizations have started conversations and taken action. Community United Against Violence bolsters and empowers LGBTQ+ communities, replacing cycles of trauma with safety, wellness, and freedom through advocacy based counseling, leadership development, and coalitions against policies that directly harm this demographic. Also on the policy side, Young Minds Advocacy works to improve mental health care systems by directly engaging with communities who are affected by mental health reform while also increasing and improving youth mental health care services in California. They take an intersectional approach, looking at how different identities and experiences can affect mental health, and honing in on the foster care and juvenile justice systems.

The Icarus Project, an organization run by and for those “who experience the world in ways that are often diagnosed as mental illness,” centers their work around how mental health is a social justice issue, hosting workshops and trainings with an anti-oppressive framework at clinics and schools, as well as for health care providers. Emphasizing disability justice and a peer-support model, Project LETS builds peer-led communities of education and advocacy on college campuses, implementing numerous initiatives including a university-based and nationwide Peer Mental Health Advocacy program which offers free, one-on-one, long term mental health support.

Mental Health: Everyday Awareness

When speaking about mental health, it’s important to be aware of the full wellbeing spectrum that ranges from the wide array of mental illnesses that span beyond depression and anxiety to the many wellness practices we can incorporate into our day to day. As we collectively continue to reform how we humans engage with this mental health and wellness culture, we can also be cognizant of the ways in which daily interactions within our communities play a role. Each one of us has the ability to promote mental health practices, and that begins with encouraging ourselves and those around us to prioritize mental health. Whether it’s doing something we love, finishing that last task on a to-do list, or having confiding sessions with people we trust, there is no “right way” to care for ourselves and each other, as long as we are doing it.