The National Federation of Families facilitates Children’s Mental Health Awareness week during the first week of May. We applaud the Federation for beginning the 2022 week with this declaration: “It’s time to move beyond the term awareness. This significant shift to acceptance speaks more directly to our goal for the campaign – to eliminate prejudice and discrimination that individuals with a mental illness diagnosis or symptoms experience.”
Mental health “awareness” campaigns are typically well-intentioned and seek to increase awareness of symptoms of mental illness and direct people to appropriate resources. Yet organizations often base these campaigns on some premises that can inadvertently perpetuate the stigma that people with mental illnesses and their families face.
These are some of the assumptions behind awareness campaigns:
- The primary issue is people not being aware of their mental illness symptoms.
- The primary goal is to convince people to access treatment, often in separate mental health systems and programs.
- Insight into one’s need for mental health treatment is necessary to get help.
- Most people don’t access treatment because they have a stigma about mental illness that they need to overcome.
- Giving people information, such as treatment brochures and patient testimonials, addresses these issues.
- We don’t need to question the adequacy and responsiveness of current treatment options.
The focus on changing people’s behavior with mental health challenges communicates that the problem is with those people rather than looking at broader issues. Many now favor “acceptance” campaigns over awareness campaigns. Acceptance campaigns focus on systemic issues without sacrificing the positive aspects of raising awareness.
These are some of the thoughts that go into acceptance campaigns:
- The primary issue is the right of people with mental illness to do the same things that other people do, such as live, work and go to school in the community.
- The primary goal is to create a responsive system of services and supports beyond traditional treatments. We develop a responsive system in partnership with people receiving services and integrate it into convenient settings. A responsive system does not discriminate against people with mental illness.
- We should set up the mental health system to support a wide range of people, including those who may not recognize that they are affected by mental illness.
- People avoid accessing services for various reasons, some of which are about those services and service systems. A responsive system addresses all of the reasons.
- Service recipients, providers and other stakeholders openly discuss and share what is needed to make the system helpful and invite additional feedback.
- Service recipients, providers and other stakeholders continually evaluate and work together to improve services and supports. That system transparently shares information with the public.
We encourage you to reflect with us on how we can all move together from mental health awareness to mental health acceptance. Please take some time to check out the Federation of Families’ mental health acceptance resources.