Honoring Mental Health Awareness Month

Companionship for a mentally ill woman

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Over the years, there have been numerous campaigns to raise awareness and lower the stigma around mental health. Today, more people than ever know about the risks of mental illness and are willing to seek treatment.

But that does not mean this time is no longer important. On the contrary, it is crucial that we continue working for Mental Health Awareness in May. We are still far from a world where everyone understands the significance of mental health or has access to lifesaving treatment.

Here’s what you need to know.

The Importance of Mental Health Awareness

The field of mental health treatment has improved significantly in the twenty-first century. There are more routes to mental wellbeing than ever before. In theory, the risks associated with mental illness should be plummeting.

Unfortunately, that is not the case. Over half of all Americans with mental illness do not receive treatment. When we look specifically at substance use disorders, that number shoots to 93.5%.

For this reason, suicide is now the eleventh leading cause of death in the US, with rates having risen by 40% in the past two decades. Furthermore, the addiction crisis has worsened in recent years, including the abuse of opioids which received so much media and political attention.

One of the major factors is a lack of access to treatment, due to financial reasons, not enough providers, and other reasons.

But millions do not receive help simply because they don’t know they need it – or are scared or ashamed to ask. Mental health awareness saves lives, which is why we need to keep working on it, throughout this month and the rest of the year.

There are two important aspects to focus on in 2024.

Sharing an Understanding of Mental Health

Traditionally, mental health education in schools has been lacking. This was especially true for older generations, which is why awareness statistics decrease with age.

Even with recent improvements, many people know little more than the basics when it comes to mental health. It’s often too little for them to realize when they are affected.

Someone who is experiencing depression, for example, may think they are simply feeling sad. Everyone feels sad, right? They don’t recognize that their experience goes beyond normal sadness – the significance of the numbness, lack of motivation, sleep issues, and other symptoms they endure.

Another person, experiencing the mania associated with bipolar disorder, may believe they simply have ‘too much energy’. Their loved ones also don’t understand that their chaotic thinking, impulsiveness, irritability, and insomnia are signs of mental illness. After all, the person seems to be happy.

These individuals don’t seek treatment because they don’t realize it’s an option… or even necessary. When their issues become too much to handle, they don’t know where to turn.


This is why education is one of the main purposes of mental health awareness month. The more that people understand what mental illness is, the more likely they are to get help.

Education needs to start in schools, but should not stop there. Families need to be taught what they need to look out for. Workplaces need to treat mental illness in the same way they do physical illness. It’s not a choice nor a matter of willpower, but a medical condition that needs professional treatment.

Dispelling the Stigma

Another reason people don’t get treated for mental health problems is the stigma. Despite decades of medical consensus that mental health issues are medical illnesses, many people still see them as weaknesses.

The stigma is often linked to education, which we spoke about above. If a person believes what they are experiencing is a ‘normal’ emotion, they believe they should push through it like they assume everyone else does.

But a huge factor perpetuating the stigma is our society’s obsession with showing strength… and a warped view of what actually constitutes strength.

What is Strength?

If you ask the average person what it means to be strong, they might mention certain metrics. In a physical sense, they may view it as being able to run a certain distance or lift a certain load.

In an emotional sense, they may view it as the ability to push through difficult emotions and never ask for help.

Without context, these metrics mean nothing. We don’t see most people as strong because they can carry a bag of groceries. But if someone is doing so with a broken arm, their effort appears superhuman.

This context is missing when people speak of mental health as well. A person who is healthy can hear some sad news in the morning and manage to focus on work the rest of the day. For someone battling depression, that can take a herculean effort.

In a similar vein, most people who ask for help for mental illness have had to push through shame and guilt. That takes strength. Choosing to be vulnerable takes strength.

Changing the Narrative of Strength

Reframing strength is a good start. Ultimately, though, we aim to change the narrative of strength entirely. However you define strength, in the context of health it becomes irrelevant.

Someone with a debilitating physical illness is unlikely to avoid getting medical care because they’re ashamed of their weakened immune system. The same should be true of mental illness.

Mental illness can be just as debilitating. There is no logic in avoiding getting medical care from a desire to show strength. Illness is not a personal flaw, and everyone deserves help.


Mental Health Awareness Month is as important as ever. There’s still a long way to go, but the good news is that younger generations are getting the message. As May continues, let’s honor this month by talking about mental health and being open to those who are struggling.