May 2, 2016

Mental Health Awareness Month

By: Senator Lena C. Taylor & Author Linda Onyilofor


Did you know that one in five American adults will experience a mental health issue?

Every day, millions of Americans are faced with the realities of living with a mental health condition.  Far too often, they suffer in silence.

Mental illness is more common than cancer, diabetes and heart disease. That’s why it is so critical that people understand the detrimental effects of mental illness.

May marks Mental Health Awareness Month

Throughout the month, we are dedicated to raising awareness for mental health, improving our overall well-being, and reducing the harmful, negative stigmas associated with mental illness. 

1 in 5 kids

The statistics behind mental illness are eye-opening. Did you know that 1 in 5 people ages 13-18 live with a mental health condition? In fact, suicide is the second largest cause of death for people ages 15-24. About half of all mental illnesses amongst youth begin by age 14. It’s no wonder 50 percent of kids with a mental illness over age 14 drop out of school.

Especially now that we are dealing with a crisis of care and a lack of mental health services in our juvenile corrections facility up north, it’s important to note that nationwide, 70% of youth in the juvenile justice system have a mental illness.

Adults also suffer

The statistics in adults are just as alarming. Twenty-six percent of homeless adults staying in a shelter live with a serious mental illness and 24 percent of prisoners nationwide have a “recent history of a mental health condition.” Homeless shelters and prisons are two of the most high profile places that lack adequate resources to assist the mentally ill.

Mental illness costs

Depression is the leading cause of disability in the world. In America, mental illness costs $193 billion per year in lost wage earnings. Anyone can suffer from a mental illness, including parents, heads of households and single adults.

Reversing the stigma

Too often poor mental health is linked to negative and often inaccurate portrayals of individuals dealing with mental illness or addictive disorders. These misconceptions discriminate against those who are struggling with mental health and substance abuse issues. Moreover, these preconceptions limit the scope of what truly constitutes “mental health” and foster an atmosphere in which it may feel shameful or unacceptable to seek help. We should be fighting to ensure that individuals have access to the care and help that they need rather than reinforcing this destructive stigma.

Mental illness goes undiagnosed for an average of ten years. When properly treated, those with mental illness experience a significant reduction of symptoms and an improved quality of life.

There is hope

Medicine has provided effective treatments for many mental illnesses. There are often long delays between the first appearance of diagnosable symptoms and when individuals seek help. This delay can have permanent consequences including suicide, brain damage, and lost relationships.

More than 90% of people who commit suicide have a diagnosable mental disorder – most commonly a depressive disorder or a substance abuse disorder. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States and has accounted for over 41,000 American lives every year. But suicide is a cause of death that we can prevent.

We have a responsibility to ourselves and our community to not only look out for our own health and well-being, but also provide easily accessible resources for those in need of mental health services. Through community-based initiatives designed to aid our friends, family, colleagues, and neighbors, we can reduce the damaging stigmas surrounding mental health.

May is mental health awareness month. We need your help with awareness. Please, join us in breaking down the stigma by spreading the word.

Linda Onyilofor, author of My Brother Adam: A Journey with Schizophrenia.                        My Brother Adam is a children’s book that was written to educate about schizophrenia, a largely misunderstood mental health disorder.   

Senator Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee) is the author of the Joint Resolution naming May Mental Health Awareness Month in Wisconsin. To join Senator Taylor in her Legislative efforts, like her on,, or join her email list by emailing

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