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Celebrating Mental Health Month

By Cathi Norton, Communications Specialist-Centerstone

May is National Mental Health Month. For those of us in the mental health field, that brings to mind our struggle to reduce stigma and prejudice against people with mental illness. It strengthens our resolve to garner financial resources for the best possible treatments and refreshes our gratitude for all those who work hard for the independence and well-being of others. Reducing stigma, providing affordable mental healthcare and meeting the challenges of mental illness are tall orders, but we remain dedicated. In fact, we believe that one day mental illness might be prevented or cured! Initially breathless at such an idea, I’ve come to ask, why not; what would such a thing take—perhaps understanding, willpower and elbow grease? We can surely afford this.

Understanding involves accepting mental illness as real, treatable and equally important as physical health. Willpower grows with understanding and acceptance and serves as an engine to move citizens, leaders and legislators to develop supportive attitudes, legislation and fund resources for those in need. Once understanding weakens stigma and willpower recharges our efforts, elbow grease—research, developing better treatments and working to make treatment affordable for all—may become plentiful. Currently community mental health centers are experiencing a 20 percent increase in demand for services while finances decrease. Now more than ever we need to understand how important mental health services are to the fabric of our communities, and do what we can to support them.

Celebrating Mental Health Month also means looking at accomplishments as well as need. Indiana now has mental health parity, recognizing that mental illness is as serious as physical illness and making strides to assure insurance provides equal treatment. Supportive groups like NAMI (the National Alliance on Mental Illness) offer information and events to help raise awareness. For instance on May 30, NAMI plans a walk in Indianapolis from 8-10 a.m. at Castleton Square Mall (www.namiindy.org) to raise money to build resources for persons with mental challenges and their families. The recent National Homeless Walk raised money for homeless persons or those at risk of it—many with mental illness. And movies like “A Beautiful Mind” and “The Soloist” offer windows of understanding about the challenges of mental illness.

Lastly, celebrating Mental Health Month means learning, not only about mental illness, but mental health. Free screenings are offered periodically by many community organizations, or online (e.g., self-screenings for Anxiety, Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, Depression, Panic, etc. are available on this website under the green, rotating “Mental Health Month” sign or by clicking on “Resources & Links”). The 2009 Mental Health Month initiative urges us to Live our Lives Well by using 10 tools: connecting with others, staying positive, getting physically active, helping others, getting enough sleep, creating joy and satisfaction, eating well, taking care of our spiritual lives, dealing better with hard times, and getting professional help if we need it (www.liveyourlifewell.org). Celebrate Mental Health Month! Good mental health is like a garden—beautiful and life-enhancing if given a little regular care and attention.

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Cathi Norton, Communications Specialist