May is Mental Health Awareness Month, a pivotal initiative aimed at raising awareness about mental health issues, reducing the stigma surrounding mental illnesses and promoting the importance of mental well-being. Since its inception in 1949, this month-long observance has grown significantly, becoming a cornerstone in mental health advocacy and education. The federal government is trying to do its part, announcing new national strategies, launching a mental health action plan, and making policy changes it hopes will improve access and reduce stigma.

 The Silent Epidemic

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have found that nearly a quarter of adults in the U.S. report suffering from mental illnesses and almost 20% of adolescents ages 12-17 report having had major depressive episodes. Most alarmingly, one suicide death occurs every eleven minutes. Worldwide, depression is the leading cause of disability, affecting over 264 million people. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health conditions, impacting approximately 284 million people.

 Government Efforts to Promote Mental Health Awareness

Public education campaigns and community events during Mental Health Awareness Month aim to enhance awareness and understanding. Earlier this month, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released its 2024 National Strategy for Suicide Prevention (“National Strategy”) and accompanying Federal Action Plan. The National Strategy presents specific recommendations aimed at addressing deficiencies and fulfilling the needs of vulnerable populations. The Federal Action Plan details 200 distinct actions to be undertaken and assessed over the next three years. These actions include integrating substance misuse and suicide risk management in clinical settings, financing a mobile crisis locator for use by 988 crisis centers, enhancing support for suicide loss survivors and others affected by suicide, and assessing effective community-based suicide prevention methods.

In addition, the Substance Abuse and Mental health Services Administration (SAMHSA) focuses on improving access to mental health care, supporting innovative treatment approaches, and disseminating vital information to the public. Through targeted campaigns and educational programs, SAMHSA raises awareness about mental health issues, reduces stigma, and encourages individuals to seek assistance.

 The Need for Solutions is Great

The prevalence of mental health disorders, which affect millions of individuals and often intersect with other medical conditions, underscores the necessity for comprehensive care approaches. Mental Health Awareness Month acts as a catalyst for systemic improvements in how mental health is perceived, treated and integrated within the broader health care framework, leading to a more holistic approach to health and well-being.

AHPA extends our gratitude to Kevin Lopez, guest author of this article.
Kevin is a graduate student in the Master of Healthcare Administration program at Loma Linda University.