Part of the problem with mental illness is its stigma. It is hard to talk about, and when you do, you could be judged or shamed. That’s the sad reality, but this May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Now’s the time to bring it up and have those tough conversations — with your kids, parents, friends, family, coworkers.
Now is the time we should realize that mental illness affects one in five people while serious mental illness (SMI) affects one in 20. These numbers are from 2020, and I imagine they will increase in the next couple of years.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) states that May is for bringing voices together to advocate for mental health and access to care. The organization does this through the NAMI blog, personal stories, videos, social media and national events. (NAMI Greater Corpus Christi is holding an awareness event near the end of the month. Go to www.namigcc.org.)
What I’d like to highlight this month is the disparity between those who have mental illness and those who actually receive help. According to NAMI, about 4.9 percent were unable to access needed care in 2020. About 17 million people experienced delays or cancellations to be seen, and more than seven million had delays in receiving medication.
Even if you do have access to care, it can be very expensive. I don’t mean to discourage anyone from seeking help — you should — I’m just pointing out a huge problem that shoves many through the cracks.
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I have struggled with mental illness for a long time, and in 2019 I was hospitalized. I was fortunate to go to a private hospital and to afford the medications the doctors prescribed. One of my medications is $800 each month (before my deductible). That’s insane.
I’m now in recovery, but it came at a literal cost. I have friends who aren’t as lucky, friends who fight mental illness every day who can’t afford a therapist or psychiatrist. It’s heartbreaking. For them recovery is elusive, and that’s just not fair.
Fortunately, our community has many resources. Matter of fact, I attended a “Call to Action for Mental Health” event in late March that brought all the mental health providers together, hosted by Leadership Corpus Christi (Class 50) and the Coastal Bend Wellness Foundation. Hundreds of people were there representing their agencies and getting to know what resources are available. Our community leaders, including the mayor, county judge and state Rep. Todd Hunter, spoke about mental health awareness, access to care and programs that could help us. It warms my heart that our leaders recognize the importance here and the fact that mental health affects everyone. Not everyone is mentally ill, but we need to treat mental health just as physical health.
Speaking as the communications manager of NAMI GCC, a lot of the providers work in our silos, not knowing everything that’s out there. The event, which had different panels of professions speaking and answering questions, was eye opening. We all need to work together to get others the help they need. I think the first step following the event was to compile a comprehensive list of providers, making referrals more efficient thus allowing us to serve more community members.
Mental health care has no quick fix, but what I experienced after the event makes me see we’re all going in the right direction. That’s amazing.
This May, I urge you to talk about your mental health (and/or illness) with your loved ones. We raise awareness by sharing our stories, withholding judgment and, sometimes, just showing up. And we need to end the stigma. The more we talk, the more mental illness becomes more normalized.
So keep talking. I know I will.
For more than 20 years, Heather Loeb has experienced major depression, anxiety and a personality disorder, while also battling the stigma of mental health. She is the creator of Unruly Neurons (www.unrulyneurons.com), a blog dedicated to normalizing depression and a member of State Rep. Todd Hunter’s Suicide Prevention Taskforce.
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This article originally appeared on Corpus Christi Caller Times: May is Mental Health Awareness Month: Here’s why that matters