Good Saturday, everyone! These are the last days of May and National Mental Health Awareness Month. Just because this month is ending does not mean we stop acknowledging and changing the way we look at those who struggle with mental illness.

We must remove the stigma around mental health. Stigma is something negative a person perceives about another person. An article I found stated that just 40 percent of individuals who struggle with a mental health issue will seek professional help, largely due to the stigma or negative feelings associated with it.

One of the best ways to stop the stigma is to better educate people about mental illness. So, here are a couple of common myths and stigmas surrounding mental illness.

Myth: Mentally ill people are violent.

Truth: Less than 5 percent of violent acts are attributed to those with mental illness.

Myth: Mental illnesses do not affect children or youth — their problems are just “growing pains.”

Truth: Twenty percent of youth ages 13-18 live with a mental health condition. Seventy percent of adult mental illness, such as depression, anxiety, eating disorders and others, begins during childhood. The good news is that 80 percent of youth who receive treatment see significant improvement.

Myth: If you are mentally ill, you belong in a mental hospital.

Truth: Depression has nothing to do with being lazy, weak, or needing hospitalization. It is an illness that involves the body, mood and thoughts, and if affects the way people eat, sleep, feel about themselves and think about things. Depression is the most common illness worldwide and the leading cause of disability.

Everyone is working on something. Be open to talking to others about what they are going through. Encourage them to seek help. Help them see their good qualities, their strengths, to put in the right perspective where their mental health is.

If we can stop name calling people, actually stop yourself when you want to use the words crazy, psycho, lunatic, to describe someone who you know is struggling with a mental health issue, it will change the way you see that individual. These individuals have an illness, a disease, just like those who have high blood pressure, sugar diabetes, thyroid disorders, etc. It is a disorder in the body and the medication you take, for the last few illnesses I mentioned, also can cause a mood disorder and depression.

It will always be true that improving our health, whether it be mental or physical, is a marathon, not a sprint. Let’s face it — no one is exempt to health issues, so let’s stop the stigma so those who need help won’t be afraid to ask and let’s all work on our own health every day.

Give. Advocate. Volunteer. Live United.

Sherri M. Askren is president of United Way of Danville Area, Inc., 28 W. North St., Danville, IL 61832. Phone, 442-3512

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