The month of May is known for many things: Mother’s Day, Memorial Day and the flowers blooming after April’s showers. It is also Mental Health Awareness Month, and there are many opportunities right now to help ensure people and families on Long Island and across the country get the critical help they need.
Mental health and wellness is not something to take lightly. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), one in five adults in America experience a mental illness—but more than half didn’t receive mental health services in the last year. Unsurprisingly, the statistics for children are very similar.
We know our nation’s mental health system is broken. Serious mental illness costs America $193.2 billion in lost earnings each year. While this is a huge financial value, we must not forget the impact on people. The consequences of unidentified and untreated mental health issues can cause great harm, including dropping out of school, increased risk of chronic medical conditions, increased risk of substance abuse and increased risk of self-harm and suicide. An extremely small percentage may even go on to harm someone else, even though the mentally ill are much more likely to be victims of violence rather than the perpetrators.
Through education and awareness, we will be able to reduce stigma around mental health issues, ensuring people are not afraid to seek help. And through dedicated advocacy, we can make sure resources and services are available for those individuals in every community.
I am a proud supporter of Sandy Hook Promise, a violence-prevention group that teaches educators, community leaders and students how to know the signs of at-risk behaviors and intervene to help. In addition to providing these programs at no cost to schools and youth organizations everywhere, Sandy Hook Promise is also leading a coalition in Congress to help pass S. 2680, the Mental Health Reform Act of 2016. This strong, bipartisan bill has the support of mental health professionals, advocates, and families but needs help to move forward and be passed into law. The benefits of this bill are significant—including increased early access to mental health services for children and adults, improving the coordination of mental health resources and its delivery, and strengthening mental health parity.
In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, I am asking everyone to take two simple actions: First, call on our state’s congressional leaders to pass the Mental Health Reform Act into law this year, so it can begin helping the people across our country who need it so badly. Then, make the Promise at www.sandyhookpromise.org to help bring Sandy Hook Promise’s free violence-prevention programs to our schools and community.
Let’s help our communities. Let’s look out for one another. Let’s protect our children.
—Laurie K. Gibbons, Manhasset resident