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Help reduce mental health stigma during Counseling Awareness Month

Mental health is health. In 2020, one in five adults in the U.S. experienced mental illness. Prevalence among certain underserved groups, including lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals, is even higher.

However, in that same year, less than half of U.S. adults with mental illness received treatment. That means 28 million people who needed help didn’t get it.

Why? 

A 2011 study revealed that 44.8% of respondents did not feel their need for treatment was high enough to warrant seeking it. For those who thought their issue was significant enough to warrant treatment, 72.6% wanted to handle it on their own. Much of this reluctance to get help stems from a mental health stigma that’s been prevalent in society for decades. This stigma has painted mentally ill individuals with the same brush, implying that everyone who struggles with a mental health issue is potentially violent, unable to take care of themselves, or a candidate for institutionalization.

In truth, everyone has their own mental health picture, and there are countless individual factors that contribute to each person’s level of need for treatment. Though many people do need more intensive care—in 2020, 5.6% of U.S. adults had a serious mental illness, defined as a mental, behavioral, or emotional disorder that substantially interfered with or limited one or more major life activities—many more can benefit from mental health services including counseling, assessment, and various types of therapy.

The good news is that we’re in the midst of a mental health awareness shift. More national attention is being paid to how commonplace mental illness is. In fact, President Biden recently announced more than $2 billion in investments to increase access to mental health care, expand the capacity of systems to meet Americans mental health needs, and create safer environments for people. As we normalize the existence of these issues and observe national recognition of their importance, it becomes easier and more acceptable to ask for help.

As we consider the importance of reducing the stigma of mental illness, many organizations have been advocating for years. The American Counseling Association (ACA) each year sponsors Counseling Awareness Month, and on Friday, April 8—Teal Day—people were encouraged to wear teal to show their support of counselors and promote mental health.

With more societal awareness and acceptance of the mental health struggles individuals face, more and more people will begin seeking treatment—which is the first step toward making the changes needed to live a healthier, happier life.

For more information, visit counseling.org.