September has come to be nationally recognized as a time for education and reflection on mental health needs. Government and non-profit entities promote Suicide Prevention Month and National Recovery Month during this time. Though it’s true that increasing access to mental health care and expanded conversations about the subjects in online spaces have allowed some people to feel more comfortable sharing their struggles with things like suicidal ideation and addiction, there is still a significant stigma against these topics. According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), while “the public may accept the medical or genetic nature of a mental health disorder and the need for treatment, many people still have a negative view of those with mental illness.” The APA separates this stigma into three categories: public, self, and institutional stigma. Public stigma is external, where another person has negative thoughts about a person’s mental health condition. Self-stigma is internal, where a person with a mental health condition thinks negatively about themselves because of it. Institutional stigma refers to a lack of opportunities or a decreased quality of life for those with a mental health condition due to a lack of resources, lack of access to health care, or discrimination. All three of these types of stigma cause real difficulties for people experiencing mental health struggles, but they can be remedied by increasing the conversation about the topics that we deem most difficult.
Recognizing September as Suicide Prevention Month opens up a space for these complex conversations. Many schools and community groups across the country hold suicide prevention trainings for community members or raise money for suicide prevention organizations. As attendance at these events grows, more people are made aware of the warning signs and risk factors of suicide and ways that can help family and friends around them who may be in crisis. These events may also encourage people who feel they need to seek professional help or community support to reach out.
Just as Suicide Prevention Month allows for more discussions about suicidal ideation and mental health in general, recognizing September as National Recovery Month helps to reduce the stigma surrounding addiction. There is an increasing availability of services for people struggling with addiction, such as medication assisted treatment for those with opioid use disorders or sober living communities for those in recovery from alcohol use. Though it may be increasingly more possible for some to receive care, others face the stigma of addiction and may be afraid or unable to seek the care they believe they need. In September, organizations may launch awareness campaigns, host remembrance events, or promote fundraising efforts to help fund recovery programs. Attendance at these events helps community members see that people struggling with addiction are their neighbors and friends and helps to promote a sense of solidarity between those with substance use disorders and those who love them.
Get involved in September’s mental health awareness and prevention efforts and together we can support our friends and loved ones in their time of need and reduce the stigma around mental health conversations.