May is Mental Health Awareness Month, an opportunity to promote more frequent and open dialogues about mental health, reduce the stigma surrounding its associated challenges and empower individuals who are struggling to seek help. Mental health disorders affect millions of individuals worldwide, and since the Covid-19 pandemic, symptoms of depression and anxiety have become increasingly common, especially among youth. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey, in 2021, 42% of high school students reported experiencing persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness during the past year, and nearly one-third reported experiencing poor mental health during the past 30 days. Unfortunately, these disorders often co-occur with substance use disorders (SUD), leading to compounding issues that make it more challenging for individuals to find appropriate treatment.
Community coalitions can play a critical role in addressing mental health concerns, which CADCA is able to track with our Annual Survey of Coalitions. The data has been encouraging. In 2012, approximately 47% of coalitions reported that they addressed mental health in their community efforts. In the 10 years since, that number has grown to roughly 77% – marking a notable increase in attention to this important subject.
By starting conversations in your community, coalitions can help break down barriers and inspire others to do the same. Whether it’s reaching out to friends, family members, neighbors or colleagues; sharing personal experiences; or incorporating the topic of mental health in your community outreach and events; every effort to connect contributes to a stronger sense of community, and as a result, a healthier environment. By taking the lead in creating this culture of compassion and understanding, coalitions can create a safe space for those struggling with mental health and substance use challenges and become an additional resource for community members to seek guidance and direction towards professional help and resources they may need.
To create lasting change, coalitions are encouraged to initiate the conversation surrounding mental health beyond Mental Health Awareness Month. Here are a few ways to actively contribute:
- Share Your Story: By sharing your own experiences with mental health, you inspire others to do the same. Your story has the power to provide comfort, raise awareness and reduce stigma.
- Promote Community Events and Initiatives: Collaborate and engage with local organizations and support their mental health initiatives. Host and share information about events, workshops and support groups to encourage participation and engagement within your community.
- Listen and Provide Support: Offer a listening ear to those in need. Show empathy, validate their experiences and guide them toward professional help if necessary.
- Advocate for Mental Health Resources: Encourage policymakers to prioritize mental health support and allocate resources to improve mental health services in your community.
As Mental Health Awareness Month draws to a close, it is important to remember that reducing stigma and increasing support will be an ongoing journey that requires collective action. By recognizing the link between mental health and SUDs, coalitions can identify and implement strategies to address co-occurring disorders at their root causes.
Let us commit to creating lasting change, one conversation at a time, and together, we can create a world where mental health is valued, understood and supported.