May Is Mental Health Month, With Theme of Avoiding Risky Behavior

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The theme of "Risky Business" will encourage families and friends to draw connections between high-risk behavior and a possible mental health issue.

Mental Health Month, started 68 years ago to build awareness of mental health conditions, comes as the nation fights an opioid epidemic and more emphasis than ever is placed on prevention and coordinating behavioral health with primary care providers.

Mental Health America, founded in 1909 to promote mental health as part of overall wellness, is promoting a theme of “Risky Business” to educate the public about the connection between behaviors like obsessive internet use, compulsive sex, and recreational drug use and an underlying mental health problem. The organization has created an interactive tool kit to help families and friends ask questions about whether a behavior has gone too far.


“When we engage in prevention and early identification, we can help reduce the burden of mental illness by identifying symptoms and warning signs early—and provide effective treatment Before Stage 4,” MHA President and CEO Paul Gionfriddo said in a statement, referring to the most serious stage of mental illness, when a person is an imminent danger to oneself or others. “We need to speak up early and educate people about risky behavior and its connection to mental illness—and do so in a compassionate, judgment-free way.”

Around the world, well-known people who have struggled with risky behavior are doing just that. In the United Kingdom, Prince Harry is being praised for speaking out about getting help after a period of public displays, when he finally dealt with unresolved bereavement over the death of his mother, Princess Diana, in a car accident. In the United States, Olympic champions Michael Phelps and Allison Schmitt are working with the White House and HHS Secretary Tom Price to encourage young Americans to seek help.

“No American should suffer in silence and solitude. During Mental Health Awareness Month, I encourage all Americans to seek to better understand mental illness and to look for opportunities to help those with mental health issues,” President Donald J. Trump said in statement released by the White House. “We must support those in need and remain committed to hope and healing. Through compassion and committed action, we will enrich the spirit of the American people and improve the well-being of our Nation.”

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), which works to educate the public and end stigma around mental illness, reports that approximately 1 in 5 adults in the United States (18.5%) will experience a mental health issue in a given year. Approximately 4% will experience a serious mental health illness, one that interferes with a major life activity, in a given year.

Approximately 1 in 5 youth aged 13 to 18 (21.4%) will experience a severe mental disorder at some point in their life, according to NAMI. The group also reports that 1.1% of US adults live with schizophrenia, 2.6% live with bipolar disorder, and 6.9% had at least 1 major depressive episode in the past year. Mental illness contributes to social problems, with 26% of the homeless in shelters having been diagnosed with a mental health disorder.