Musings of a Beaverton Teen: Mental Health: Let’s Talk About It

By Emery Hanel (12th Grade)emery-hanel

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. It has been observed in the United States for nearly 60 consecutive years and was instituted to shed light on symptoms of mental illness in an effort to aid individuals in recognizing warning signs and addressing the condition before it becomes severe.

This year’s focus is on factors that put individuals at risk for developing mental health problems, including but not limited to risky sexual activity, substance abuse, internet and video game addiction, money mismanagement, poor eating habits, and poor exercise habits.

The mission of “Mental Health America” (MHA) is to “educate the public on habits and behaviors that increase the risk of developing or exacerbating mental illnesses”, and Mental Health Awareness Month is a massive part of their campaign against the negative stigmatizations of mental illness.

MHA’s goals are shared with similar groups such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), a group dedicated to changing how the majority of the world perceives mental illness.

The negative stereotypes associated with mental illness impact their ability to be hired, acquire safe housing, be given responsibility, make friends, and their likelihood of criminalization. Because of this, those suffering from mental illness oftentimes choose to ignore their affliction in fear of being affected by the symptoms and never meet with a mental health professional to receive the assistance they need.

Without support and in some cases, without the necessary medications, these individuals are unable to recover from their mental illness and some even commit suicide as a consequence.

The facts speak for themselves: less than 50% of adult Americans suffering from mental illness receive the treatment they need and, correspondingly, suicide is one of the top ten leading causes of death in the United States.

Here is how you can help:

  • End the taboo on mental illness. Talk about it! Ask about it! Propose solutions for making the world a more tolerable place for those suffering from symptoms of mental illness.
  • If you hear someone spreading a misconception about mental illness, correct them. Education is the key to inciting change. Advocate for those who are suffering.
  • Don’t abuse mental illness terminology. For example, a high school teenager is not “psycho” because they acted angrily one time. The weather is not “bipolar” because it changed quickly. “OCD” is not an adjective– it’s a serious disorder.
  • Be supportive of individuals suffering from mental illness. Ask them how you can best help them cope with their condition. And most importantly, don’t identify that individual by their mental disorder. Their mental illness is a part of them, but it does not dictate who they are as a person. Listen to them. Encourage them to share their story with others.
  • Research! Do some reading up on mental illness. Being informed is being an ally to those with mental illness.
  • Volunteer with Lines for Life or YouthLine as a crisis line responder. Assist others at Albertina Kerr, an organization that helps individual of all ages to cope with developmental disabilities and mental health challenges. Dedicate your time to providing emotional support to clients through Volunteers of America Oregon.
  • Most importantly, if you or a friend are in danger of harming yourself or themselves, please don’t hesitate to call the 24/7 national suicide prevention hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). It’s free, it’s confidential, and can connect you with the resources you need.

Emery Hanel is a senior at Jesuit High School who enjoys reading, writing, and playing lacrosse.