July 23, 2019 | 71° F

Rutgers recognizes May as Mental Health Awareness Month

May might be a month filled with the excitement of school ending and flowers blooming, but it is also a month to recognize the importance of mental health awareness.

Mental Health Awareness month is a time dedicated to fighting stigma, providing support, educating the public and advocating for equal care, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) website.

President Obama declared May as National Mental Health Awareness month in 2013, but individuals and organizations have been observing it since 1949, according to the website.

The movement has grown stronger each year as people use the month to emphasize mental health issues, according to NAMI.

Although these issues are important to address year-round, highlighting these issues during May establishes a time for people to display the passion and strength of people working to improve the lives of the tens of millions of Americans affected by mental illness, according to NAMI.

Anniversaries or reminders of important events are helpful, said Brian Chu, director of the Youth Anxiety and Depression Clinic and associate professor in the Department of Clinical Psychology.

“Having a dedicated month for mental health awareness allows all interested stakeholders to congregate and focus energies for a focal period of time,” Chu said.

May is also focused on making health care more accessible and promoting it to young people, as well as supporting those suffering from mental illness, Obama said.

Mental health is the emotional, psychological and social well-being of a person, which affects the way they think, act and feel, according to mentalhealth.gov.

All people experience stress, sadness and occasional mood swings, according to NAMI. Mental health issues go beyond these emotions and become long lasting, changing the way one thinks, feels and acts.

Factors that might contribute to mental health issues include biological factors, life experiences and family history, according to mentalhealth.gov, and mental health is on the rise for college students.

Busy college students can especially understand the importance of mental health to overall health, said Jill Richards, director of Counseling, ADAP and Psychiatric Services (CAPS).

“Mental health awareness messages are important aspects of building a caring campus community,” Richards said.

The month allows University community members to speak openly and pay attention to mental health concerns in the same way people are concerned about physical health, thus decreasing stigma associated with mental health, Richards said.

Students can participate by going to campus events, but talking about it is even more important, said Francesca Maresca, director of Health Outreach, Promotion and Education (HOPE) for Rutgers Health Services.

Casual conversation among classmates, speaking to friends acting differently or any mental health conversation raises awareness, Maresca said.

Even though people are increasingly becoming concerned with mental health in recent years, many still suffer in silence, Obama said.

While one in five adults will experience a mental illness in a year, less than half will receive treatment, Obama said.

“The general public is becoming more aware of the presence and impact of mental health on everyday life,” Chu said. “It seems people are becoming more compassionate towards people with mental health concerns, but there is still a great deal of stigma associated with seeking help.”

While more and more people become comfortable recommending friends and family members to seek help, they often become much less comfortable seeking help for themselves, Chu said.

There is a culture of shame surrounding mental health concerns for many, as well as the myth that people who seek help for mental health concerns are weak, Richards said.

Mental Health Awareness month is helping change the societal perception of mental health, Maresca said.

“During National Mental Health Awareness month, we reaffirm our commitment to building our understanding of mental illness, increasing access to treatment and ensuring those who are struggling to know they are not alone,” Obama said.

Although society is much more aware and knowledgeable of mental health issues and general wellness, there is still stigma associated with mental health, Maresca said.

“Here at Rutgers and everywhere we go, we have to evaluate our mental wellness, understand people who live with mental health issues and know that any of us can experience these issues,” she said. “Attitudes are changing, but there’s still a long way to go.”

There are many effective treatments for a wide variety of concerns, and many of them are not well known by the general population, Maresca said.

For students, it is important to know the difference between being stressed and being depressed, according to mentalhealth.gov. If someone thinks they have a mental health issue, they are recommended to reach out to a trusted individual.

If it is an emergency, it is crucial to get help immediately, according to mentalhealth.gov.

Regular exercise, a healthy diet, plenty of rest and relaxation are ways for students to take care of their bodies and directly influence mental health, according to mentalhealthamerica.net.

CAPS we will be hosting an open house in anticipation for Mental Health Awareness month on April 29 at 17 Senior St. on the College Avenue campus and 61 Nichol Ave. on Douglass campus, according to their website.

“Anyone can walk through our doors and find assistance,” Richards said. “We want to decrease the stigma that may be associated with coming to our service by inviting everyone in.”

Students often differentiate between people who are diagnosed with mental health illnesses and themselves, but everyone can and should reach out for help when it is needed, Maresca said.

Mental Health Awareness month is an important way the University can send a message that mental health matters, Richards said. It is crucial that universities let students know that there are support systems in place for them.

“By holding an awareness month, (the) University is doing just that ... showing students who may not be coping as well as they could be that they are not alone, and there are supports on and around campus that can help,” she said.

Noa Halff

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