Mental Health Awareness Week

This year, the world lost designer-mogul Kate Spade, and chef-TV personality Anthony Bourdain to suicide. Both enjoyed an enviable life of success that many aspire to, but many of the seen and unseen victims of mental illness suffer in silence, far away from the spotlight.

Many more well-known figures have recently come forward about their struggles with mental health, including Brooke Shields and Chrissy Teigen who have both opened up about postpartum depression, rapper Logic performed his song “1-800-273-8255” at the Grammy Awards, which is also the number for the National Suicide Prevention Hotline, Destiny’s Child singer Michelle Williams recently checked into a clinic for mental health treatment, Prince Harry disclosed his grief and anger over losing his mother Princess Diana, actor Ryan Reynolds confessed struggling with anxiety for many years, and the list goes on.

There are also people in our own lives who have struggled just the same, often with a facade. As we mourn the deaths of Kate, Anthony, Robin Williams, Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington and many more, it’s another awakening that fame, fortune and popularity are not cures for mental health struggles. While our society deifies its celebrities, we forget that, just like us, they endure analogous internal conflicts.

What is Mental Health Awareness Week?

Mental Illness Awareness Week, also known as Mental Health Awareness Week, is commemorated the first full week of October to spotlight efforts to bring a greater understanding of mental illness and encourage people to seek out resources that could save their own life or that of a loved one. One in five Americans is diagnosed with a mental illness¹, but researchers and health care providers worry that the number of people struggling may be even higher due to those who choose not to seek help because of shame or lack of accessible support.

Many of those living with mental illness suffer and struggle in silence, forgoing help because of shame and stigma. In addition, LGBTQ communities and communities of color also suffer from higher rates of mental illness because of the stressors inflicted on marginalized populations; existing on the fringes of society often means that access to health care, especially mental health care, is more distant because of the structural barriers of oppression. And even in populations that we’ve been conditioned to believe are “mainstream” also struggle in plain sight; in 2016, seven out of ten people who died by suicide were white males², and many researchers attribute this to the demands of masculinity and how perceived weakness is never an option.

Organizations like the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) and the National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI) are working to provide help to avoid preventable deaths and improve qualities of life by imparting to the public about warning signs for mental illness and suicide. They also work to make resources available and more inclusive of chronically ignored communities, like people of color and the elderly, as well as conducting extensive research on children who are just as at risk as their adult counterparts.

One of the biggest goals for organizations like NAMI and AFSP are educating the public about mental health— so those who need help will become more encouraged to seek it— as well as making their resources and services more widely available.

Here are ways you can advocate for mental health for yourself or someone you care about:

Educate Yourself!

The more we know, the better we can arm ourselves to fight back against mental illness. Get educational materials from NAMI for you and your inner circle. You can also bring educators to your school to help facilitate necessary conversations and educate students about mental illness as early as possible. Programs like AFSP’s More Than Sad offer tools to equip students, parents and teachers to work together to become more knowledgable about mental health in young people.

Speak Out and Spread the Word

Awareness is essential; the more people know accessible help is available, the more they will engage. As simple as posting on your social media accounts (click here for messaging ideas), you can impact someone who needs a lifeline, and use hashtags like #CureStigma, #RealConvo and #IWillListen to find others who are also speaking out. Posting facts about mental health shows us that people are not alone in their fight. NAMI encourages users to download their infographics to use in starting discussions to take away mental illness’s stigma. Artists should also feel encouraged to create their own to share.

Most importantly, those with a story to share should feel encouraged to open up. Many struggling with mental health believe their battles are solitary, but the truth is the struggle translates across so many demographics. Find your voice; storytellers are encouraged to use a variety of mediums to express themselves when words fail. Sing, draw, write, dance, photograph… whatever method feels most natural to you, there’s no wrong way to tell your tale. What matters is dissipating the burdens of shame with truth and honesty and finding there are many who will listen to you, and helping others along the way.

Influence Policy For Change

Go right to the source; you can improve the quality of life of those living with mental health disorders by influencing policy that dictates health care, education, mass incarceration and more. Advocate for a better world for all! Read up on important public policy issues and share with your social circles, and reach out to your local legislators and speak up for the rights of those with mental illnesses.

Walk To Make a Difference

Both AFSP and NAMI both organize regular 5K Walks to raise funds and awareness. Walks take place across the country from the spring through the fall, are free to register, and are open to all ages. NAMIWalks has so far raised $11 million towards mental health awareness and engaged more than 50,000 participants, while AFSP’s Out of the Darkness walkers have raised a collective $15 million through their 400 walks across the country. You can galvanize your family, friends, coworkers and neighbors to team up and walk for a good cause.

Even if you can’t physically participate, you can become a virtual walker by making fundraising donations, or discover your own creative way to fundraise. AFSP walkers can choose between community walks, Campus Walks for students and educators, and Overnight Walks from dusk til dawn. With these fundraising walks, more mental health education and suicide prevention programs can be brought into schools, more resources for suicide survivors and tools for family members of those living with mental illness can be made available, as well as increased interactive screening programs for educational facilities, medical institutions, and workplaces that take proactive measures in crises prevention, and much more.

Many have shared their stories about why they participate in these walks. Survivors have spoken out about personal loss of friends and family. Walking is more than just a proactive measure to take charge against something that can feel hopeless and helpless; survivors walk as a means of reassurance, surrounded by others who have walked in their footsteps as they are bound by an optimism for the future. Walkers often want to take what they’ve learned while grieving and share it to help support the next person at risk.

Find an AFSP walk or NAMI walk near you or get inspired to start your own! Contact AFSP staff to learn more about organizing a walk in your region.

You can also represent AFSP in this year’s New York City Marathon like actor-writer Bryce Pinkham, who recently lost friend Mark Schlegel to suicide. “I hope this campaign will help destigmatize suicide and add our voices to the critical conversation about mental health that is gaining momentum in our country and around the world,” the actor says. “My goal is to cross the finish line not only having honored my dear friend Mark and raised funds to help save lives, but also having raised awareness about suicide prevention and provided the opportunity for others to share how mental illness has affected their lives.” Click here to support Bryce's team.

Lend a Hand

Don’t have the funds to contribute? You can volunteer your time and efforts to help people. Use your skillsets to make a tangible difference; apply to be an AFSP Volunteer today and get involved in a way that can best help those who need it.

Talking about mental health is never easy, and taking the first step is sometimes the hardest. If you need resources or someone to talk to, visit the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention or National Alliance for Mental Illness websites, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text TALK to 741741. Reach out; someone will be waiting for you on the other side.



previous / next

Subscribe to the NYXT newsletter

Learn about upcoming events, volunteer opportunities, and new organizations looking for your help.


New Call-to-action