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While education and advocacy are important and necessary year-round, May is designated as Mental Health Awareness Month – a time to focus on spreading awareness of the prevalence of mental health issues within our communities and to work together to reduce the stigma faced by those suffering from them.

Prevalence of Mental Health Conditions

The numbers are startling. At least once within a year, around 1 in 5 adults experiences mental illness in the United States.

With approximately 20% of people suffering from mental health issues, it would seem that they would receive widespread empathy and support within the community, easily seeking treatment.

Instead, mental health illness is surrounded by a stigma that causes affected individuals to hide their problems and internalize their suffering, rather than reaching out to friends, family, and medical experts for support and guidance.

And, unfortunately, it is quite common for those suffering from mental illness to also abuse alcohol and drugs.

The Connection Between Mental Health Illness and Addiction

Undiagnosed mental health issues can lead to self-medication through use of drugs and alcohol that has dire circumstances for those affected.

The Journal of American Medical Association states that 50% of those suffering from an extreme mental condition are also afflicted with a substance abuse disorder.

A recent study found that of the 38.6 people in the United States with depression and anxiety, 7.2 million of them took opioids. Citing the possibility that these people are likely experiencing an amount of pain that would be more bearable to a person who is not suffering from mental health issues, the study suggests that they likely perceive their pain to be greater than they otherwise would.

Consequences of Co-Disorders

This co-disorder can be particularly difficult for medical professionals to diagnose, as many of the symptoms have an overlap and both disorders have components that are that are psychological, biological, and social.

When these co-occurring disorders go untreated, or only one is diagnosed and addressed, there is an increased chance of relapse and resulting medical illness, homelessness, incarceration, or even suicide.

Use this month to learn more about the connection between drug and alcohol abuse and mental health issues, or to teach loved ones and those in your community.

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How Can You Participate in Mental Health Month?

Nationally recognized as Mental Health Month since 1949, May is a time to educate and learn more about mental health illness as well as the effects on those suffering, their loved ones, and their communities.

Start a Conversation

In your classroom, your place of business, or simply with a group of friends, start a conversation that asks questions about why we, as a society, stigmatize those suffering from mental health illness. What we can do to put an end to that stigma and how we can work to encourage those who are suffering to get the help they need?

Share – or Listen to – a Story

It is so important for people living mental health disorders to recognize that they’re not alone. Perhaps you have a story about a loved one who has suffered through depression. Maybe you yourself have been through a stint with mental health issues that you can share. Any story you can share will help put a face to mental health disorders, helping to normalize and de-stigmatize a problem that plagues one-fifth of our country.

Advocate in Your Community

Use your story to influence policy makers to work towards allotting funding for research, protecting access to services and treatment, as well as ensuring equal access to mental health care.

Get Social

Use your social media channels as a forum to spread awareness messaging, helping to educate friends and family on Mental Health Month, as well as offering support and resources for those with mental health issues.

Keep the Dialog Going

When June rolls around – and all year long – continue helping to educate yourself, your friends and family, and your community on the prevalence of mental health issues in our country.

Ending the stigma will help start the healing process for so many, and hopefully help those that suffer from the doubly difficult co-disorder of drug/alcohol abuse and mental illness to be properly diagnosed, receive treatment for both, and move forward with support from their community.

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