Mental Health Awareness Month Kuzeytac via Compfight

Because May is Mental Health Awareness Month, I wanted to take a look at how the news has shaped our understanding of mental illness. In the last year, you were probably saddened and alarmed by some of the many news stories involving loss of life.

Unfortunately, some of the more shocking mass killings have had mental illness diagnoses (or the experts’ best guesses) sprinkled throughout many of the articles and news reports. If the news has been your main source of information about mental illness, you might wonder if you can ever be safe in public.

The accused shooter in Aurora, Colorado was seeing a psychologist shortly before killing and injuring many people in a movie theater last summer. The shooter in the Newton, Connecticutt elementary school tragedy may or may not have had a diagnosable mental illness.

Because these events were horrifying and highly publicized, they have affected the way the general public sees mental illness. It may be impossible to measure this impact, but you can’t think of either event without also recalling something about the shooter’s state of mental health. Violence and mental health have been tightly linked with these events.

The point of Mental Health Awareness Month is to go beyond the headlines and the popular conceptions of mental health. To really understand people who have mental illness, you need to explore the quiet shadows. The vast majority of these individuals face their symptoms without ever becoming a news story.

New moms experience postpartum depression in the middle of the night as they care for their newborns. Elderly people with depression face another day by avoiding social interaction any way they can. Teens with anxiety turn down invitations from friends to avoid having a panic attack in public. Adults with bipolar disorder try to sort out the trouble from dramatic mood swings within the privacy of a counselor’s office.

More than likely, you know someone who has recently struggled with some kind of mental health issue. It’s important to know that many mental health problems can have mild or moderate symptoms and are very treatable. Even though severe problems can grab headlines once in a while, they do not represent the majority of mental illness experiences.

Take a moment to look into your community’s mental health services. Flip through the yellow pages or ask your local medical clinic where someone might go if they felt depressed or highly anxious. Even if you don’t believe you have a family history of mental health problems, traumatic events can happen to anyone. Just as you would be aware of the medical clinics in your area, it’s a good idea to know how to seek basic mental health care.

Mental Health Awareness Month is about more than just reading headlines. It’s about understanding the resources your community and learning how people live with mental illness. Take these steps today and you could help someone come out of the shadows of mental illness.