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Why Talking about Mental Health Is So Important :: BlackPressUSA

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By Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas)

During the month of May, we recognize Mental Health Month, and raise awareness for the millions of Americans living with a mental health condition. Since 1 in 5 adults, or approximately 43.8 million people, will experience mental illness during their lifetime, it is safe to say that everyone is affected by this issue. Approximately 20.2 million adults in the United States experience a substance use disorder each year and 50 percent of them have a co-occurring mental illness.

Quite often people are alarmed when you begin discussing mental health, but there is only one way to overcome that fear and that is through transparency and awareness. According to the U.S Department of Health and Human Services, mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel and act.

This year, Instagram launched a #HereForYou campaign, which encourages users of the social media platform to open up about their mental health. Since the launch, teens and young adults have been taking to social media to share their stories of overcoming the obstacles of mental health and leaning on each other in a safe space by offering friendship, support and collaboration. As a result of this campaign, Instagram has become a social media platform where users can post about feelings and mental health as a coping mechanism and get support from those who share their experiences and those who don't.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) also provides several forums for individuals with mental health issues or substance use disorders to speak freely and without judgment. I believe it is vital for individuals with mental health issues to be able to talk openly and without facing unnecessary stigma. However, communities of color do face higher levels of stigma, receive less access to treatment, and are less likely to receive treatment. In fact, even though the prevalence of mental illness by race is similar between White adults and Black adults, the use of mental health services among these adults differs. According to NAMI, White males use 11.3 percent of mental health services and White females use 21.5 percent of mental health services while Black males use 6.6 percent and Black females use 10.3 percent. This may be due to a culturally insensitive healthcare system, less health insurance coverage, racism in health treatment settings, or general mistrust of healthcare providers.

Unfortunately, there are serious consequences for a lack of treatment. Untreated mental illness can cause further emotional, behavioral, or physical health problems. We have seen the impacts of mental illness gone untreated in our veteran and homeless populations. Far too often, our veterans and the homeless are ignored and do not receive proper treatment. When they go without treatment their livelihood is affected tremendously-broken relationships with family and friends, loss of financial stability, or feeling they have no purpose in life.

Serious or severe mental illnesses, which are schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder, major depression, or bipolar disorder, cost America about $193.2 billion in lost earnings per year. Individuals living with serious mental illness die 25 years, on average, earlier than others. Not to mention, suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the U.S, and the second leading cause of death for individuals aged 15-24. In Texas, one person commits suicide every three hours on average and 44,193 Americans commit suicide each year. In many cases, it is common for those who attempt suicide to have a mental illness.

We must do more to support individuals who suffer from mental illnesses and be willing to involve ourselves in programs that support them. As we continue to have open conversations about mental health, with respectful language, we can abandon the social stigma associated with mental illness.

Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson is a Texas native, serving her 13th term representing the 30th Congressional District of Texas. She was the first nurse elected to the U.S. Congress. In December 2010, Congresswoman Johnson was elected as the first African-American and the first female Ranking Member of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology - a position she still holds today. You can follow her on Twitter at @RepEBJ.