Mental Health in America: National Mental Health Month

Last week we introduced our Mental Health Awareness Month series with a post about new research showing a connection between probiotic-rich foods, such as kefir, and reduced anxiety. We also talked about the White House’s National Microbiome Initiative (NMI), which will “advance microbiome science in ways that will benefit individuals, communities, and the planet.”

Today we’re taking this series a step further to discuss not just the research and science about anxiety and mental illness, but the people affected by it every day and what you can do to help.



How’s this for a staggering statistic:

Mental illness affects 25 percent of all U.S. adults.

Or this:

Nearly half of Americans who suffer from mental illness go untreated.

If you know someone who has been affected by mental health trouble – or if you yourself have struggled – it’s important to know you’re not alone. Mental health issues like depression, anxiety or bipolar disorder can be devastating, but it’s also treatable, so long as help is sought.

We spoke with Ronald Stolberg, PhD, a professor at the California School for Professional Psychology about how we can help those who need access to mental health treatment resources. Read on to see why Dr. Stolberg considers mental illness similar to diabetes, and why he suggests never telling a person to “just snap out of it.”

Why is Mental Health Awareness Month such a critically needed campaign, especially in today’s day and age? 

In our society people are rewarded with attention and sympathy for their traditional medical issues; if you break your arm or have surgery, people line up to help out and dinners are brought to the house nightly. Mental illness, on the other hand, is nearly invisible and simply doesn’t garner the positive response that other medical issues receive. If you share that you are depressed or anxious, you might even hear “snap out of it,” or, “don’t be so weak” in response.

Mental Health Awareness Month reminds us that these issues are real and that they are much more common than you think. The goal is to reduce the stigma of mental illness and create support.

Why do nearly half of Americans with mental illness go untreated?

Mental illness affects 25 percent of all U.S. adults.

This is complicated and difficult to overcome. First, there is still the stigma that you shouldn’t share your personal issues outside of family because of potential shame and humiliation. For instance, it is believed that individuals with mental illness won’t be offered jobs and will lose friends.

Second, mental health treatment is expensive and requires a serious commitment to the process. Many individuals who need treatment simply don’t have the resources or ability to find a qualified therapist, arrange transportation, pay the fees, and continue with treatment for lengthy periods of time. The goal is to make these resources easier to obtain and to eliminate as many of the negative variables as we can. Ideally there would be low-fee/no-fee clinics located near transportation hubs that offer a wide variety of interventions (medication, therapy, child care, etc) under one roof.

What should we do if we suspect a loved one is suffering from a mental illness? Where are some good resources to look to?

This is a great question. The most important thing to do is to not ignore it. Far too often we suspect something might be wrong but we avoid asking the question and offering support. We hope the symptoms go away on their own, but they usually don’t.

It’s important to start a dialogue and determine the level of urgency. Offer support and understanding rather than trying to fix problems on your own. Most of the time, it is fairly easy to assist someone in finding a therapist who can answer questions and design a treatment intervention, or refer you to someone with the right specialty. Simply searching online for a therapist in your town will result in lots of options. If you have insurance, your insurance company can provide you with a list of therapists in your area, organized by specialty.

If the urgency is greater and you think there is an imminent risk of self-harm or suicide, you should call 911 immediately. There are also a number of local and national suicide and crisis hotlines that can help arrange treatment and support. 1-800 SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433) is the most well-known resource.