A column by state Sen. Jennifer Flanagan
By Leominster Champion | on May 18, 2017
As the chair of the Mental Health, Substance Use, and Recovery Committee, May is a very busy time. It has been dubbed Mental Health Month, and it is an important time for advocacy on policies regarding mental health, access to services, education, and awareness. It is critical to have this time be devoted to such an important topic that affects so many people.
In the United States, May has been recognized as Mental Health Month since 1949. The dedication of May as Mental Health Month began as a way to bring awareness to mental illness and to educate people on how to access services. Mental health may be a less taboo topic today, but there is still a lot of stigma surrounding it. As a result, advocacy is as significant today as it was in the past. The more we educate, the more comfortable people will feel getting help. This is critically important, especially for children, to see that needing support for ourselves is nothing to be embarrassed about.
To kick off Mental Health Month, each year my office holds an event at the end of April to educate the community on various issues surrounding mental health. This year, my office had the pleasure of hosting our event at Mount Wachusett Community College. Dr. Heather Brenhouse from Northeastern University presented on the brain’s neurological response to childhood trauma. Her presentation was fascinating and provided a lot of insight on how we will be viewing, treating, and preventing mental illness in the future. I look forward to reading more about her research to see how her team can further develop their data.
Mental illness looks very different depending on the age, sex, gender, and experience of the individual person. As a result, there are certain days and weeks in May that are dedicated to specific populations of people who are vulnerable to mental illness. For example, May 8 is Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day, and the first week in May is Maternal Mental Health Week. Organizations do this to highlight services and bring awareness to certain populations. These campaigns are a great way to educate and inform.
May is the perfect time to start practicing wellness. There are many ways to access information for mental health resources. For information on accessing services for mental health treatment, visit the following sites and explore some of the resources they have to offer: www.nami.org/mentalhealthmonth, www.mentalhealthamerica.net/may, www.mmhcoalition.com and www.helppro.com.