As the recent horrific events at Virginia Tech illustrate, mental health matters to every individual and in every community. From children to grandparents, one in five Americans will experience a serious emotional disturbance or mental illness each year. According to SAMHSA, in 2005 there were an estimated 24.6 million adults, age 18 or older, who experienced serious psychological distress which is highly correlated to serious mental illness.

We can no longer afford to ignore illnesses so prevalent in our community. In fact, mental illness is more prevalent than cancer, lung disease, and heart disease combined and has led the U.S. Surgeon General to declare mental illness one of our nation’s key public health issues.

Mental health matters to overall health and is vital to maintaining good physical health. “The advances made in treatments and services for mental illnesses offer the hope of recovery for all,” said Acting Surgeon General Dr. Kenneth Moritsugu, M.D., M.P.H. “Mental illness is not something to be ashamed of. It is an illness that should be treated with the same urgency and compassion as any other illness. And just like any other illness, the support of friends and family members is key to recovery.”

Despite the fact that an overwhelming majority of Americans (85 percent) believe that people with mental illnesses are not to blame for their conditions, only about one in four (26 percent) agrees that people are generally caring and sympathetic toward individuals with mental illnesses, according to a recently released HealthStyles Survey. The survey data, licensed from Porter Novelli by SAMHSA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, also found that only one-quarter of young adults believe that a person with a mental illness can eventually recover, and slightly more than one-half (54 percent) who know someone with a mental illness believe that treatment can help people with mental illnesses lead normal lives.

May is Mental Health Month, a time for our community to acknowledge the importance of mental health and take action to ensure that individuals with mental illnesses have access to the care, treatment, and prevention services they need. Senseless barriers such as stigma, misunderstanding, and discrimination can be torn down by recognizing that mental illnesses are real, common, and treatable. For more information about mental illness and treatment contact Family Service. We are here to help.

Daniel J. Kill, LCSW, BCD
President/CEO, Family Service & Mental Health Center

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