Why Raising Awareness About Mental Illness Is Not Enough

Your car needs an engine to run, but without wheels, gas, and a driver you won’t get anywhere.

The engine is necessary but not sufficient for the car to operate successfully.

Your body needs lungs to breathe, but without a heart, brain and other organs you won’t survive.

Your lungs are necessary but not sufficient for you to live.

An Olympic athlete needs to practice their sport, but if they don’t show up and perform at the meet, they can’t win a medal.

Practice is necessary but not sufficient to bring home the gold.

Raising awareness about mental health

Our efforts to fix the broken mental health system must include raising awareness about the issues, but without action nothing will change.

Raising awareness is necessary but not sufficient for lasting change.

I can be aware of stigma and discrimination directed toward people with mental illness, but unless I change my attitudes and behaviors toward them, nothing will be different.

I can be aware of inadequate funding for mental health programs and a lack of appropriate services, but until our policy makers increase resources, services can’t grow enough to meet the demands.

I can be aware of the lack of access to services for people in crisis, but until we change the rules so people can get care when they really need it, people will still be excluded in times of need.

Raising awareness is a critical first step. Everyone must be educated on the basic facts about mental health conditions, appropriate treatments and how to access care.

But just raising awareness without taking effective action won’t really get us anywhere in the long run.

We have to be doers, and not just thinkers.

We need to have a sense of urgency that the problems with the current system must be fixed and must be fixed now.

So what’s getting in our way? It’s not a lack of awareness.

I think we’re already doing pretty darn well on the raising awareness front.

We all know that as many as 1 in 4 adults have mental health issues.

We know that it’s ok to ask for help and that effective treatments are available.

And we know that a lot of people (30 to 80 percent) never seek treatment.

And yes, we know that mental health services are chronically underfunded.

Common roadblocks to taking action

So what’s getting in our way from taking more effective action?

Let’s look at a few common roadblocks that keep us from taking action even when we are fully aware of the issues needing attention.

     “I don’t know where to start.”

Start by reading some of my blogs, such as this one which talks about various easy ways to support people with mental illness.

     “I don’t know what to say.”

Say you’re willing to give one hour a week or even one hour a month to support an effort to improve mental health care.

     “I’m not anybody that someone will listen to.”

If you or someone you care about has been affected by mental illness or addiction, you have a voice that needs to be heard.

     “I can’t make a difference.”

Of course you can. This quote by Edward Everett Hale says it well: “I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.”

     “It’s overwhelming.”

Yes, it can feel overwhelming, but start with something quick and easy to get your feet wet. Before you know it, you’ll be on your way to bigger and better things.

Get informed, but get involved!

So, what’s the takeaway here?

Raising awareness about mental health issues is still a critical first step.

But the even more critical second step is to take action to encourage better treatment for those who struggle with mental illness or addiction.

So, here’s our new mantra: Get informed, but get involved!

Let’s act now.

Here’s a question: What can you do to get more involved with efforts to improve mental health care? Please leave a comment. Also, please subscribe to my blog and feel free to follow me on Twitter, “like” my Facebook page, or connect on LinkedIn. Thanks!

  • Daniel, great post and I couldn’t agree more. My nonprofit, Hope Xchange Timebank, is Withdrawing the Stigma & Depositing the Solution. The stigma of a mental illness comes with the weight of silence and shame. These burdens are too heavy to bear and need to be lifted with proactive measures and interventions. Not tomorrow, today.

    An investment in prevention is needed for funding a solution to save the lives of those living without purpose or hope. By finding and funding elements of empowerment, community wellness can be sustained and lives can be changed. Our Timebank, a “Currency of Hope and Wellness,” is adapting an internationally proven community-based model and leveraging it benefits, first and foremost, on behalf of those who are struggling with a mental illness. Timebanks hold the key to wellness and suicide prevention and save government money by preventing and reducing readmissions to hospitals and by putting people back to work.​

    By giving and taking an hour, our Timebank is able to:
    * build relationships based on reciprocity that provide a needed sense of purpose
    * strengthen communities with opportunity part of a solution
    * provide those with a mental illness who are socially isolated with needed support and hope, a reason to hang on.

    I invite you and your readers to visit our website and join us in building a bridge to hope and wellness at http://www.hopexchangetimebank.org.

    Kerry Martin, Executive Director & Mental Health & Suicide Prevention Advocate
    Hope Xchange Nonprofit (http://www.hopexchangenonprofit.org)
    Hope Xchange Timebank Nonprofit (http://www.hopexchangetimebank.org)

  • Love this post, especially the great suggestions on how to get involved!

  • Thanks so much Janet! Great to hear from you!

  • Kerry, thanks so much for sharing this information!

  • Justin Lanning

    Well said David. Great suggestions for us all to take to heart. We must step forward together into this next phase of action. One additional challenge I would put forward and awesome responsibility I believe we all have is to not just ask for “more resources, funding, and services” by either just getting more or taking away from other worthy causes…but rather by putting our minds together to find ways to create new value and new savings in existing spending efforts to responsibly free up finances and capacity of services to be directed toward mental health. To tell our story in a balance value-based way that addressing mental health in an appropriate and comprehensive way, we will avoid so many other fully avoidable costs short-term and long-term across our social systems both public and private. There is only a certain amount of money we have to invest nationally in so many challenges…so how do we help our legislators locally and nationally think through the best and most innovative ways to distribute our available funds for the best overall outcome for all of the people of our great nation. Johann Hari, author of Chasing the Scream, has several great examples on this front. Consider me an active collaborative partner in this important phase of action. Together we can and will make a meaningful and life changing impact.

  • I agree Justin. I’m the Executive Director for Hope Xchange nonprofit and in my work with the bipolar community over the last three years, we have discovered two key mission-critical lessons that now drive everything we do:

    * Give people a purpose in their lives that resonates with their heart and soul and you not only give them a reason to hold onto hope; you empower them and give them a reason to hold onto life itself. If you renew life purpose, you can stop those who are suicidal from taking their own lives. We know. As evidenced by the testimonials on our website, we’re doing it now with our innovative bipolar-to-bipolar mentoring program.

    * Suicide prevention is everyone’s responsibility and each and every person has to not only realize this but has a role to play. To tear down the wall of silence, shame and stigma that not only suffocates those who are struggling with a mental illness diagnosis but is literally killing over 42,000 people every year in this country, each and every one of us must step up and remove a brick and, by doing so, save a life.

    When a brick house is falling down under its own weight, you can’t just prop up a compromised foundation and hope for the best. You tear it down and you rebuild. If we want to save lives, we must rebuild our communities from the ground up on an entirely new foundation, one of caring and compassion. We’re doing just that @ hopexchangetimebank.org and in our community wellness prototype we plan to show that we can decrease the burden on a overwhelmed and underfunded mental health care system by preventing hospital readmissions and by getting people off disability and back to work.

    Kerry Martin, Executive Director

  • My pleasure! I believe each and every one of us is key to community wellness and suicide prevention. And my mission in life is to reduce the incidence of suicide as I find the fact that we lose over 42,000 American’s every year totally unacceptable.

  • Revolvingofdoors

    This is an excellent article. It is very true that awareness on its own will not bring about the change we need. I do think it is part of the equation however. The only way any meaningful policy changes will occur is through influencing our governments and political leaders. In the past there was never any real need for them to act as …to put it bluntly…not very many people cared. Times have changed however and they need to continue to be pressured and invest in mental health. You are right however, we need to be doers and show the way. All the best. Zee

  • Zee, thanks so much. I hope we’re nearing a tipping point where the outcry of advocates and those in need will bring about some lasting positive changes.

  • Thanks Justin. Well said!

  • Awesome Kerry! Keep up the great progress and collaboration!!!

  • Jonathan Shapiera

    Mental Health and Homelessness have been disregarded for too long. We have a growing phenomenon of MH with every person we take off the streets, put them into shelter and then forget about them. Excellent article David and it does ask the question of what we can do to help others. We (SWAHP) have been campaigning for more interactive MH involvement with the homeless for years but all has fallen on deaf ears. There is no money in the sector to help those in need. Suicide living on the streets is a daily thought. Recovery is toooooooo long.

  • Jonathan Shapiera

    Kerry, I’d love to see some of the written stuff you have done please. We campaign for the homeless sector and MH, suicide and homelessness are a daily givings when you live on the street. Giving people purpose post homelessness is strength in itself.

  • Julia Mathisen

    The correlation between Mental Illnesses and the drug and alcohol culture has to be addressed.. A lot of people with mental illness self medicate by using drugs and or alcohol. Yet the drug/alcohol problem gets attention and treated but the root of the problem seems to get swept under the rug..

  • Julia, yes, absolutely right. The vast majority of people with mental illness have co-occurring drug and alcohol misuse/abuse issues. Take a look at my blog posts on “double trouble in recovery” and “WHAM” (whole health action management), two approaches with a dual focus on mental illness and addiction. Thanks!

  • Julia Mathisen

    Thank you I will def read

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