Monday, October 10, 2011
World Mental Health Day: Where's My Ribbon?
Yep, today is World Mental Health Day, designed to "raise public awareness about mental health issues" (per the World Health Organization). Incidentally, it is also Columbus Day and World Homeless Day. And, unless you live under a rock, October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, designed to raise awareness (and raise funds, and sell pink crap) for breast cancer.
I'm not saying these other issues aren't important -- well, maybe I am saying that Columbus Day isn't that important, except to people who get off work and school because of it -- because, let's face it, cancer and homelessness are both major concerns in our society today. In fact, if most people had to prioritize, I'm sure that cancer would be number one, homelessness number two, and mental health number three. And I understand that. But let's look at statistics.
According to the American Cancer Society (cancer.org), almost 570,000 people died of cancer in America in 2010, and a little over 40,000 of those deaths were from breast cancer. Incidentally, lung cancer comprised 157,000 of those deaths, and I don't see a month dedicated to that. You can see all the statistics here.
Turning to look at the stats on mental health, this interesting article from the founder of PsychCentral.com, Dr. John Grohol estimates that around 33,000 people die each year in the world of untreated mental illness. That statistic may be low, too, because there's little information from third-world countries about mental illness mortality.
Though it's hard to find hard statistics on homelessness and mortality, it isn't hard to find statistics on the link between homelessness and mental illness. According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, as many as 25% of homeless people are mentally ill -- compared to 6% of the general population.
Lastly, in a big "well, duh" statistic, this snippet from the National Alliance on Mental Health reports that experts estimate upwards of 50% of cancer patients suffer from depression, anxiety, and other serious mental health issues.
That's a lot of statistics, and it's obvious that cancer kills a lot more people a year than mental illness does. But we also have consistent, pervasive awareness of cancer, and a buttload of funds going to cancer (well, at least some types of cancer), every year. And if someone learned they had cancer, I can guarantee that it wouldn't take them three months to get in to see a doctor, and they wouldn't have family members telling them that it's all "in their head."
Out of curiosity, I did a google search for "October 11, 2011" and nothing about World Mental Health Day came up. A lot of stuff came up about Judgement Day (should that be capitalized?) and the end of the world, which I'll have to read about later. But as far as awareness goes, I think the US has a long road ahead. Mental illness isn't sexy. Nobody has a "Bipolar Disorder 5k Fun Run." Very few people, if any, have a "Mental Illness Awareness" ribbon stuck to their car -- let alone their water bottles, wrist bands, or Swiffer Sweeper refills. In fact, I'm not even sure there is a mental health awareness ribbon; a google image search for "Mental Illness Awareness Ribbon" comes up with multiple colored ribbons -- some blue, some green, and hey, even a pink one comes up.
Just because there are no ribbons, no fun fund-raising events, and no pervasive marketing for it, mental illness is still a very real problem in this country and world-wide. I guess we don't need a ribbon to understand that fact.