Mental Health Awareness Month and Staying Sober

Do you sometimes forget that your substance use disorder (SUD) correlates to your mental health? Perhaps the people in your life do not see SUD as a mental health condition. Many people forget or refuse to accept that addiction is a complex mental disorder. However, with May being Mental Health Awareness Month, you can use this time to educate people, spread mental health awareness, and discuss the dangers of SUD. 

Change does not happen overnight. However, national events like Mental Health Awareness Month allow us to make small strides toward reducing the stereotypes and stigmas surrounding complex issues. We have already seen a lot of progress in reducing mental health stigma, but there is still a way to go. Take advantage of this month to educate those in your life and perhaps learn a few things about mental health yourself. 

What Is Mental Illness? 

Mental illness is exactly what it sounds like — conditions or disorders that occur in the affect the brain. A mental health condition can cause changes in your emotions, behaviors, thoughts, or all of the above. These conditions can wreak havoc on your life, impairing your ability to function day-to-day and fulfill responsibilities at work, school, or home. 

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), there are two categories of mental illnesses:

  1. Any mental illness (AMI) describes mental, behavioral, or emotional disorders. AMIs can cause mild, moderate, or severe impairment, depending on the circumstances. 
  2. Serious mental illness (SMI) is a mental, behavioral, or emotional condition that causes severe functional impairment. Symptoms are severe and significantly impact your overall quality of life. 

Unfortunately, there is no singular factor that causes a mental health condition. A combination of things typically leads to its development. Factors can include genetics and family history, environmental and social influences, and traumatic experiences, such as childhood trauma or natural disaster.

Despite the amount of research conducted on the subject and the wide variety of treatment methods available today, it seems more and more people are developing mental health conditions. Researchers are trying to determine why this is, as the numbers indicate an increased prevalence of mental health problems across the United States today. 

Prevalence of Mental Illness Across the United States 

The NIMH indicates that more than one in five adults in the United States has a mental health condition. That totaled to about 57.8 million people in 2021 alone. The list of mental health conditions people struggle with seems endless, and the information on each is vast. However, some of the most common disorders we see include: 

  • Anxiety disorders 
  • Depression 
  • Bipolar disorder 
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) 
  • Schizophrenia 
  • Eating disorders 
  • Personality disorders 
  • Dissociative identity disorder (DID) 

The severity of a condition depends on the person and the disorder itself. Different factors also determine severity, even within a single diagnosis. One factor that is vital to consider is the presence of substance use with a pre-existing mental health condition. 

Mental Health and Addiction 

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) indicates that individuals with SUD are at an increased risk of "developing one or more primary conditions or chronic diseases." Having two or more different conditions simultaneously is referred to as a co-occurring disorder. According to SAMHSA, about 9.2 million adults in the United States had a co-occurring disorder in 2021. 

Treatment for co-occurring disorders is possible through dual diagnosis. A dual diagnosis program helps treat your SUD along with any other mental health condition you may be struggling with. Unfortunately, the existence of another mental health condition can make staying sober more challenging, but it is possible. 

Staying Sober During Mental Health Awareness Month

Mental Health Awareness Month is a time each year when people join in a national movement to increase awareness about mental health. Individuals focus on fighting stigma, educating others, advocating for policy changes, and supporting the millions of Americans who struggle with mental illness annually. The movement can also empower people to improve their mental health and maintain sobriety. 

You can stay sober during this mental health awareness month by: 

  • Spending more time outside in nature 
  • Utilizing creative or artistic outlets 
  • Attending support group meetings or local events that empower those with mental health conditions 
  • Spending time with friends and family and avoiding boredom, isolation, and loneliness
  • Helping others who are trying to stay sober or maintain mental health 
  • Creating goals for yourself 
  • Spending time planning an exciting trip for the summer 
  • Giving meditation or mindfulness a try 
  • Talking to a sponsor 
  • Getting enough quality sleep 

How You Can Spread Mental Health Awareness This May 

Not everyone is in a position to spread awareness this May. You may be at the beginning of your recovery journey, which requires most of your attention. However, there are things anyone can do to spread awareness about mental health this may, including: 

  • Openly discussing your struggle with SUD and mental health 
  • Educating friends, family members, and others on the warning signs of mental health conditions 
  • Volunteering at local facilities or events 
  • Participating in efforts to bring about change and expand mental health legislature 
  • Spreading messages of hope and encouragement through social media platforms 

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and one of the best ways to participate in the movement is to spread awareness in any way you can. That includes openly discussing your struggle with mental health, educating others on the warning signs of mental illness, volunteering at local events, and spreading messages of hope and encouragement through social media. Millions of people struggle every day with their mental health and sobriety. Despite the number of treatment options available, we must still fight to end stigma and create changes that will improve the mental health of individuals across the country. To learn more or consider seeking treatment this Mental Health Awareness Month, call NorthStar Transitions at (303) 558-6400

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