Reflecting Upon Mental Health Awareness Month

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Mental Health Awareness month, observed each May in the United States, was especially important this year. In this past year, 4 times as many U.S. adults reported symptoms of anxiety or depression than in the previous year. The pandemic and consequences of the pandemic (e.g., income loss, school closures, isolation) have led adolescents and adults alike to experience symptoms such as difficulty sleeping or eating, increased substance use, increased alcohol consumption, and worsening chronic conditions. As with many other health issues, the pandemic has disproportionately impacted communities of color, with Black and Hispanic/Latinx adults more likely to experience symptoms of anxiety or depression than White adults, while also facing more difficulties in accessing care.

Widespread experience with mental health challenges resulting from the pandemic underscore the already high prevalence of mental illness in the U.S. Over half of all people will experience a mental health crisis or disorder during their lifetimes. Unfortunately, over half of those with a mental illness will also not receive care. Stigma and lack of knowledge about mental illness are common in the United States and contribute to this problem. Social stigma comes from others feeling like people with a mental illness are undesirable while self-stigma is when someone experiencing a mental illness internalizes those negative feelings about themselves and believes that they’re true. Almost everyone with a mental illness feels that social stigma as well as self-stigma have negatively impacted their lives. However, education and awareness can help combat this.

In 2018, the Community Health Improvement Department at Cambridge Health Alliance responded to the need in our communities for greater understanding and support for mental illness by expanding access to Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) and Youth Mental Health First Aid (YMHFA) through funding from SAMHSA. These evidence-based trainings managed by the National Council for Mental Wellbeing are designed to train members of the community in skills to assist when someone faces a mental health or substance use crisis or challenge. These trainings have been adapted to a virtual platform and continued during the pandemic to support community mental wellness in the Greater Boston area.

As we undergo yet another major change in shifting back to in-person work, school, and other daily activities this year, being aware of the challenges this may stir up is crucial. Employees have expressed fear and dread about transitioning back to the workplace, “anxiety’s been off the chart” for students transitioning back to the classroom, and data has shown that regardless of vaccination status, around half of all adults feel uneasy about future in-person interactions. Though the transition back to in-person interactions can exacerbate mental health challenges, a return to more in-person interactions can also mean more opportunities to support family, friends, co-workers, and colleagues who may be struggling with their mental health.

Mental health awareness is just one piece of what is needed to move the dial on mental wellness. Greater availability and equitable access to mental health services is also needed for those seeking care and treatment. However, shedding light onto mental health is one step towards improving mental health services. Through continued mental health awareness, community mental health and wellness can be supported and improved.

If you are interested in attending a MHFA or YMHFA training, please email Kerry Mello at


Wendy Ji, MPH

Research Associate

Kristin King, MPPM

Senior Research and Evaluation Project Manager