Awareness months have become a powerful tool for raising awareness about important issues in society. We use these times to educate people about different diseases, promote causes that we should advocate for, and raise funds for research and treatment. When done right, awareness months can create a sense of community and solidarity among those affected by a particular issue, and encourage policy changes that can benefit society as a whole. The simple act of highlighting different causes throughout the year, reminds us that there’s still work to do on various issues that impact us all.
Awareness months have been shown to have a positive impact on people's behavior, but the extent of this impact can vary depending on the specific cause being promoted and the methods used to raise awareness.
For example, one study found that breast cancer awareness campaigns during October (Breast Cancer Awareness Month) were associated with an increase in mammography rates among women aged 40 and older. Yet another study looking at Google search trends found that National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month (March) is associated with increased public interest in colorectal cancer; however, despite this increased interest, it did not appear to translate over into a significant increase in screening rates.
If you do a deep dive into the literature you will find mixed reviews on the impact on events that simply raise awareness vs. an increase in actual behavior change. Overall, while awareness months can be an effective way to promote an issue and highlight the need for an issue and some behavior change, their impact can vary depending on the specific cause being promoted and the methods used to raise awareness.
Well, my friends, May is mental health awareness month and we should, as always, be bringing more attention to mental health, but as you can likely guess by now, I think we have to do more. Let’s take advantage of this and frankly the last three years and think of major action we can take to move mental health forward.
Here are examples of small things we can do to help move from awareness to action:
Start a conversation in your community: Starting conversations about mental health in your community can be an important step in reducing stigma and promoting access to mental health resources and the need for mental health reform. To begin these conversations, you can consider hosting mental health awareness events, sharing your own experiences with mental health, distributing resources such as info about hotlines or local support groups, encouraging an open dialogue, and using your social media platform to raise additional awareness. Although starting these conversations can be uncomfortable if you are new to it, it is crucial to create a more supportive environment for those who are struggling and normalize a culture that embraces not shuns mental health. By taking action in your own community, you can help promote mental health, which is better than any billboard I know of!
Invest in someone doing work you care about: When I recently moved, one of the fist things I did was look to the organizations in my community who were doing things I care about. It wasn’t hard to find amazing people and learn ways to help. I have found that there are simple ways to invest in individuals and organizations doing work you care about, including donating money (no matter the amount!, volunteering your time and skills, showing up at their events, pushing out their work on social media, and even giving resources such as office space, technology or equipment. If mental health is your cause, I guarantee there are multiple organizations tackling this issue in your community. Almost all states have a Mental Health America or NAMI chapter. A close friend routinely volunteers for his local mental health and suicide prevention crisis line. The point here is to invest some of you into the people and organizations doing good work.
Educate yourself so you can take action: While I have been a bit tough on awareness in this piece, it is important that we actually possess some knowledge on mental health to know how to take action. And thankfully, there are several ways to become better educated, including reading and researching, attending workshops and conferences, taking courses, joining groups or organizations, engaging in discussions, and watching documentaries. I have found that engaging in discussions with knowledgeable individuals can provide unique and critical opportunities to ask questions and gain new perspectives. Whatever it is you choose, becoming better educated on a topic can allow for us to take more informed and effective action to address mental health.
Keep focusing on bringing mental health to where people are: It’s almost cliché to say, but we must keep a focus on our vision of where we want mental health to go. For me, and this is a message I have been sharing for as long as I have been a professional, we have to bring care to where people are. When you see the challenges people face getting access to care, those who want to take action for their own mental health, its a good reminder that we must keep moving in a direction where care is everywhere. From retail clinics to your local community hangouts, for us to take meaningful action, we must work to restructure what care is, how its defined, and where that care is given.
Yes, May is mental health awareness month. Do your part, and acknowledge the issue while simultaneously moving to take action that can improve mental health for you, your loved ones, and your community. I believe that increasing awareness and taking action can coexist. Let’s not simply default to our flashy campaigns or witty slogans and not actually work to make change happen.
My Husband, Jack and I have sponsored a six part series titled STATE OF MIND, Confronting Wyoming’s Mental Health Crisis, on Wyoming PBS. It is a documentary produced by Mat Hames and has been well received including additional funding by foundations and individuals. A second season is planned. Thanks for your focus on these important issues. Carole Nunn
Very well said!