Common Ground: July focuses on minority mental health

I was shocked to learn that mental illness is a leading cause of disability in the United States.

The illness affects about one in four adults and one in 10 children. And although the figures are the same among minorities and multicultural groups, there are some differences.

I have relatives and friends who live with mental illness. Partly for those reasons, July as National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month has relevant meaning for me.

Some of the difficulties that my family and friends have faced are rooted in misconceptions, stigmas or poor education about the mental disorder. Well-meaning loved ones have downplayed or denied the seriousness of the illness, or believed the relative would somehow “snap out of it.”

In fact, the U.S. surgeon general reports that minority groups are less likely to get a diagnosis and treatment for mental illness, have less access to mental health services and receive a poorer quality of mental health care.

There are area community agencies addressing these challenges. Gardere Initiative, a community advocacy program, will co-host a National Minority Health Awareness Month program from 8:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. today, July 23, at 8435 Ned Ave. Participating partners will highlight access to mental health treatment and services.

“The effects of mental illness on parents, children and spouses … can be detrimental when proper assistance is not sought and services are not available,” said Jeremy Blunt, vice president of the initiative.

In Louisiana, between 2008 and 2012, some 35.2 percent of adults with a mental illness received mental health treatment and counseling and 64.8 percent of adults received no treatment and counseling.

Nationally, fewer than half of people with serious mental illness receive treatment.

One solution, in my experience, is for family members or friends to educate themselves about the illness and then repeatedly step in to encourage an ill loved one to seek help.

Years ago, several of my relatives encouraged a mentally ill loved one to seek help, telling him it would be much the same as following a doctor’s order to take a high blood pressure pill or even an Advil to minimize an ache.

He got help through counseling and medication, but has relapsed in recent years.

The consequences of receiving no treatment can be serious. Nearly one-third of adults with a mental health disorder are victims of violence, according to research published in the American Journal of Public Health.

To decrease mental health stigmas and misconceptions, we must first boldly take our own personal steps to help friends or loved ones who are facing these seemingly insurmountable challenges.

National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month is one step toward realizing a solution.