Mental Health Awareness Month: How far we’ve come and how far we’ve still to go.

The History of Mental Health

While records of mental illness date back to 2000 B.C., it wasn’t until the 20th century that the term “mental health” came to be. For most of human history, those with mental illness were often believed to have been influenced by the supernatural rather than suffering from a disease.

With all that we know now, it is difficult to imagine ‘treating’ mental illness through exorcism or witch hunting, but with little knowledge about mental illness, the response of society was often hysteria rooted in fear.

Fortunately, in the last 100 years we have experienced a major shift in the way we regard mental health. In 1908, Clifford Beers wrote the book A Mind That Found Itself detailing his experience with bipolar disorder and being institutionalized. This was monumental.

During this time, mental health patients were treated inhumanely and Beers made it his mission to expose the malpractices he witnessed and endured. In shedding light on the abhorrent treatment of those with mental disorders and discussing his personal experience with mental illness, Beers introduced a new way to think about mental health, spearheading the concept that mental health is as important as physical health.

Beers’ efforts became the foundation of Mental Health America, an organization that has led the movement for mental health awareness, advocated for those with mental health disorders, and worked to improve mental health treatment programs.

Thanks to Mental Health America, we celebrate Mental Health Awareness Month every May and expose millions of people to the realities of mental health disorders. This initiative not only educates on the prevalence of mental illness, but plays a significant role in fighting the stigma surrounding mental health issues.

Mental Health Awareness Month

Read more about the misrepresentation and stigma surrounding mental health and addiction and society’s perception of drug use.

Mental Health and Addiction

During the mid-century, addiction was categorized as a mental health disorder for the first time. This seemingly small shift revolutionized the way we view and treat substance use disorders. What was once considered to be a choice was finally becoming recognized for what it truly is, a disease.

With new understanding, mental health professionals shifted their approach to treating substance use disorders. But despite this massive leap forward, there is still much to be done when it comes to discussing addiction, promoting mental wellness, and supporting those who are suffering.

It’s important to understand that integrated treatment for dual diagnosis disorders is crucial for successfully overcoming combined mental health and addiction issues.

Mental Health Today

While mental illness is now commonly understood to be a disease, the stigma surrounding mental health disorders remains.

Despite the fact that mental health disorders affect 1 in 5 Americans, those who are suffering may still be disinclined to seek help. Why? Often because they feel ashamed and worry they will be judged by their peers. This is the consequence of stigma.

Though openly discussing mental health, treating mental and physical health as equal, and challenging negative language surrounding mental health, we have been able to break down some of the shame that surrounds mental illness, but that doesn’t negate many of the roadblocks in place for those who require treatment.

The Stigma Surrounding Mental Health Presents Challenges

Because of the stigma surrounding mental health disorders such as anxiety and addiction, many people ignore the signs that they need help in hopes they can keep their struggle a secret.

One of the major incentives for remaining quiet about mental illness is a lack of job security. It is not uncommon for those who are suffering from addiction or another disorder to lose their job based on poor performance or taking a leave for treatment. Because of this, many professionals are hesitant to get the care they need.

While there are systems in place to protect employees diagnosed with chronic physical illnesses, they do not always apply to those struggling with mental health issues. This is one of many clear indicators that mental health is still not considered equal to physical health. 

For more on professionals and addiction:

Another giant hurdle we face when combating negative stigma surrounding mental illness is homelessness.

If someone was diagnosed with a physical disease that made them unable to work and then were not given the support they needed to afford housing, would you consider homelessness to be their fault? Of course not.

What about when someone is suffering from a mental health disorder and facing the same challenges? Is homelessness their fault? In this scenario, opinions differ.

The truth is, addiction and mental illness are prevalent among the homeless population. While it is still uncertain if homelessness is widely responsible for mental illness or vice versa, the stigma surrounding mental health is partially responsible.

Because mental health disorders are still relatively taboo, many who are suffering do not seek help before their condition has dramatically impacted their life. In turn, it is significantly more difficult for those who are struggling with mental illness to secure housing, enter treatment, and get the professional help they need to recover.

What The Future Holds For Mental Health Care

In the technological era, new advances are being made that will not only reduce the stigma, but improve treatment options. Through social sharing and online initiatives, mental health is becoming more widely discussed, exposing more people to the realities of addiction and other disorders.

The Future of Mental Health Care

Not only are new technologies being released that have the potential to predict mental illness, but applications have been developed that provide mobile mental health care.

These advances have the ability to bridge the gap between the way mental health is perceived and treated, but there is still much we can do as individuals.

In honor of Mental Health Awareness month, we encourage you to:

  • Speak up when confronted by negative stigma
  • Challenge the belief that mental illness and addiction is the fault of the person suffering – because it’s not
  • Eliminate all negative language and instead offer compassion

While these efforts may feel like a small contribution, remember that the progress we have made in the last century can be accredited to a single man who was brave enough to share his story. This is something we all have the power to do.

For more on what we believe, read our Manifesto.

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We believe trust, meaningful connections, and kindness are the essentials to beginning a journey in recovery. We are dedicated to providing an honest, authentic, and genuine treatment environment that gives our clients a unique opportunity for healing.

Alo House is LegitScript Certified and a Joint Commission Accredited Addiction Treatment Center.