For Mental Health Month County Executive Hughes Urges Raising Awareness

The following is a message from Mercer County Executive Brian Hughes:

May is Mental Health Month. For almost 70 years, this annual observance has sought to raise awareness and educate the public about mental illness and the stigma that it carries. While progress has been made, stamping out the stereotypes and prejudice that result from misperceptions about mental illness is an ongoing challenge that requires the commitment of every individual. That’s why Mercer County government is recognizing Mental Health Month by embarking on a yearlong “Stigma Free Mercer” campaign to raise awareness about mental illness with the goal of making Mercer County a stigma-free community.

We intend to raise awareness about the impact of stigma on those experiencing a mental illness, as well as the impact on their families,  their classmates, those with whom they work and worship, and their communities as a whole. Stigma is a misperception about people that leads to discrimination and other negative consequences. It may be obvious and direct, such as someone making a disparaging remark about mental illness or treatment. Stigma also may include assumptions that people may be unstable or dangerous because they have a mental health diagnosis. Stigma can lead to discrimination at work or school and bullying or harassment. Stigma is destructive and undermines efforts to belong.

How then do we respond to stigma as a community? We talk about mental illness. We encourage respect for all people. We embrace the dignity of the person rather than focus on the symptoms of the disease. We support and encourage our loved ones, neighbors and colleagues living with a mental illness. We educate ourselves and others about the reality of stigma and, in unison, we declare Mercer County a stigma-free zone.

Mental health problems are surprisingly common, according to many studies. We know that 1 in 5 adults have a mental health condition. That’s more than 40 million Americans. Youth mental health is worsening. It’s a fact that 1 in 5 teens ages 13 to 18 have, or will have, a serious mental illness. It’s a fact that suicide is, in most instances, precipitated by an underlying mental health issue such as depression or anxiety, combined with other complicating factors. It’s a fact that suicide is the third leading cause of death in the United States among 10- to 18-year-olds and the second leading cause among 19- to 25- year-olds.  Many of us know at least one person or family whose life has been affected by a mental illness.

Mental health is essential to everyone’s overall health and well-being, but often people suffer in silence because the world responds negatively to those with a mental health issue. They respond with judgment, instead of acceptance, blame instead of understanding, and even discrimination. Our response to those experiencing a mental illness must be sensitive, informed and respectful. It must facilitate dialogue instead of conjecture. It must create an environment for hope and healing, and it must address blame and stigma.

Mental health conditions are not only common, they are treatable. The County of Mercer, through the Department of Human Services and its Division of Mental Health, funds and supports numerous local mental health agencies to provide help for those with mental health challenges. Outpatient programs provide opportunities for assessment and individual, family, marital and group counseling. Day treatment programs provide a more intensive and structured level of care for those who need it. The Transition to Treatment program provides immediate access to therapy and assistance in linkage to other services in Mercer County. The publicly funded mental health service providers in Mercer County offer quality care with compassion and respect for those they serve to promote hope, dignity and success. For more information, call the Mercer County Division of Mental Health at 609-989-6529.

May is Mental Health Month. I encourage you to talk about mental health with your loved ones, your colleagues, and your friends and neighbors. And I encourage you to join us in our effort to change the perception of mental illness and make Mercer County stigma free.

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