May has been Mental Health Month, an annual observation to raise awareness of mental health and addiction disorders as well as the effective treatments that are available. This month is an ideal time for us to start a conversation about mental health, confront misconceptions and come together as a community to protect the health of those who will face a mental illness this year.
This May marks a particularly poignant Mental Health Month as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy signing the Community Mental Health Act (CMHA), a brave and compassionate act that has changed the landscape of how America addresses mental illness. President Kennedy sought to bring mental illness “out of the shadows” with this legislation, which provided federal funding for mental health research and spearheaded a new effort to move care for those with mental illnesses from isolation in hospitals and asylums to community mental health centers. The president asked America to diminish the stigma, shame and fear that had surrounded mental illness for far too long.
So, have we succeeded in achieving this goal? In many ways, we have, but there is still room for improvement.
One in every four people in our nation - approximately 1.6 million Hoosiers - will experience a mental health disorder this year. The impact of this statistic can be seen across our region in many ways. For example, diagnosable mental disorders make up more than 90 percent of suicide deaths each year, and adults with serious mental illness die 25 years earlier than average Americans.
Fortunately, our ability to effectively treat those with even very serious mental illnesses has vastly improved, and researchers and clinicians continue to uncover new knowledge about the brain. We have effective interventions, medications, innovative services and wonderful support programs that help transform lives. Of those who seek treatment, between 70 to 90 percent have conditions that can be effectively treated or managed. Community-based mental health centers also are saving lives by removing barriers to treatment for individuals of all ages.
Despite the fact that treatments and access to care have improved greatly, only 30 percent of those who face a mental illness will receive the mental health services they need. Thousands of friends, family members, neighbors and colleagues with mental illness and addiction disorders remain untreated. So, our work remains far from complete.
To realize President Kennedy’s vision of bringing mental illness “out of the shadows” and finally remove the stigma surrounding mental illness, we must not be afraid to discuss mental health and addiction concerns. We must encourage others to seek the help they need and generate awareness of mental health and addiction disorders. If we do these things, together we can help individuals with mental illness and addiction find the resources within their communities they need to heal and live full and productive lives.
Suzanne Koesel, LCSW, is CEO of Centerstone Indiana, a not-for-profit provider of community-based mental health and addiction services. For more information on Centerstone, call 800.344.8802 or visit www.centerstone.org<http://www.centerstone.org/>.