May is National Mental Health Awareness Month

By Liza Fischer

Axis Health Systems

On April 30, President Barack Obama proclaimed May as National Mental Health Awareness Month. Obama called on citizens, government agencies, organizations, health-care providers and research institutions to raise mental-health awareness and continue helping Americans live longer, healthier lives.

With the president’s recent proclamation, and as legislators in Colorado prepare to wrangle over next year’s budget, there should be little disagreement about the need to shore up our mental-health services. Numbing tragedies last year in Aurora and Newtown had politicians on both sides of the aisle agreeing it was time to fix our depleted mental-health system.

Gaps in mental-health services have widened in recent years because many states have slashed more than $4.3 billion from mental-health budgets since 2009. The budget cuts have closed the doors to hundreds of treatment centers in dozens of states, including Colorado, in addition to forcing the layoffs of case managers and reduced subsidies for outpatient counseling, medications and family-support services.

Statistics report mental-health conditions in the United States are more prevalent than heart disease and cancer combined, and this year, 1 in 4 adults in the United States will suffer from a mental illness.

One cost-effective initiative is Mental Health First Aid. This evidence-based literacy program helps identify mental-health problems, connects people with care and safely de-escalates crisis situations if needed. MHFA training has already been delivered to more 100,000 Americans through a network of nearly 3,000 instructors. The training is intended for people from all walks of life, including educators, faith groups, law-enforcement officials or anyone interested in learning more about mental illness and addiction.

Too often the stigma of seeking help prevents people who need treatment from getting the care they need in a timely fashion. MHFA is an important part of the solution because it gives people the skills to recognize mental-health disorders and get them help.

A recent study found that people trained in MHFA had greater confidence in helping others, a greater likelihood of advising people to seek professional help, improved concordance with health professionals about treatments and decreased stigmatizing attitudes.

Research shows that the sooner people get help for mental-health concerns, the more likely they are to have positive outcomes. That means that the more states do to keep their residents healthy and productive, the less money they will have to spend on long-term treatment programs.

Axis Health System believes in the promise of MHFA and has trained several hundred people over the last four years in our surrounding communities.

“I had no idea mental illnesses were so common; I now feel I have a better awareness and knowledge about mental illness and will be more comfortable talking about mental illness to my coworkers, friends and family,” said one MHFA participant.

For more information or to schedule training, please contact me and I will work with you to meet your training needs. I look forward to talking with you.

Liza Fischer is the clinical project coordinator for Axis Health System. She can be reached at (970) 335-2206 or lfischer@axishealthsystem.org.

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