Now that Mental Health Month is over, I’m thinking about what it really means to de-stigmatize mental health conditions. There’s been a lot of buzz around mental health lately, but is anything actually changing?

It’s not enough to just talk about it – the steps we take during Mental Health Month need to be supported by real action and long-term dedication. When mental health awareness becomes just a trending topic, we risk downplaying the serious and ongoing experiences that millions of people face.

The mental health crisis can’t be solved with a few weeks of heightened awareness. It’s a constant battle against stigma, misinformation, and systemic barriers to care. Plus, it’s tied to bigger issues like housing and food security. People recover when they feel stable, safe, and healthy, which is why it’s crucial to talk about mental health in a broader context.

Context Matters: The Impact of Inequity on Mental Health

Racial and gender inequities significantly impact mental health. Systemic racism and sexism create environments where people with intersecting identities face unique challenges. This ongoing discrimination can increase the risk of both physical and mental health problems.

Folks from under-resourced racial and gender groups often have less access to mental health care because of economic disparities and cultural barriers. When they do seek help, they often face bias or discrimination from healthcare providers.

Social support systems are often weaker for these groups due to community fragmentation, mistrust in institutions, and a lack of culturally competent resources. Issues like housing and food insecurity are also closely tied to the overall wellbeing of communities. Tackling these challenges requires big changes, including fair healthcare policies, culturally responsive care, and strong community-based support systems. 

Stigma and Shame

Even with the progress made in recent years, mental health conditions still carry a lot of stigma, which can stop people from getting the help they need. Nearly 1 in 5 American adults will have a diagnosable mental health condition each year, but over half of them will go untreated. While there’s been more talk about conditions like depression and anxiety, it’s also crucial to de-stigmatize the more severe symptoms, such as manic episodes, hallucinations, and suicidality.

We know that stigma starts with language, and no matter where it comes from, it’s harmful. Let’s ensure that Mental Health Month isn’t just a moment, but a movement towards real change.

Creating Lasting Change

So, what can we do to keep the momentum going beyond Mental Health Month? 

  • Commit to keeping the conversation alive all year round. Talk openly about mental health with your friends, family, and coworkers. Share your own experiences if you’re comfortable—personal stories can be powerful tools for breaking down stigma.
  • Advocate for better mental health policies in your community. Support local and national organizations that work towards equitable mental health care. This could mean volunteering your time, donating money, or simply spreading the word about their efforts.
  • Educate yourself and others about the systemic issues that contribute to mental health conditions. Understand how factors like poverty, discrimination, and lack of access to healthcare impact mental wellbeing. Use this knowledge to inform your actions and advocacy.
  • Prioritize self-care and support others in doing the same. Mental health is just as important as physical health, and taking time to care for yourself isn’t selfish—it’s necessary. Encourage those around you to seek help when they need it.
  • Push for workplaces, schools, and communities to adopt mental health-friendly practices. This includes creating supportive environments, offering mental health resources, and ensuring that everyone feels safe to speak up about their mental health needs. 

Real change comes from sustained effort and genuine commitment to transforming our understanding and treatment of mental health. We have the power to make a difference by continuing to talk openly about mental health every day, not just in May. 

Education is key. By learning about and addressing the systemic issues that impact mental health, such as poverty, discrimination, and lack of access to care, we can make informed decisions that lead to meaningful progress. Each of us can play a role in advocating for fair policies, culturally responsive care, and robust community support systems.

Beyond Mental Health Month

Wilder Hickney

Wilder C. Hickney has been consulting with Colorado Mental Wellness Network as a Communications Specialist since November 2021. She has a bachelor’s degree in English and Communication Studies and has previously worked as a rhetorical researcher and intern with the University of Denver. Wilder continues to offer services related to developing long-term rhetorical communication strategies to clients. With CMWN, she combines her love of language and her lived experience to create promotional content through various communication channels. In her free time, Wilder is a dedicated poet and dog lover.

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