Mental Health Awareness Month 2024: The Power Of A Personal Story

May 15, 2024 | Mental Health Awareness

Reducing the stigma associated with mental illness has been noted as a public health priority. In fact, a report shared by the National Institutes of Health found that navigating the stigma associated with mental illness is often worse than living with the actual illness itself.

Efforts to raise awareness about the challenges linked to mental illness often create a pathway to relatability for those who otherwise may be struggling in silence or isolation. It’s part of the reason Mental Health Awareness Month, recognized in May, is so vital to changing the discourse and perception of mental illness on a global scale. 

Stigma, like most things, can take many forms. It can lead to prejudice and discrimination as those who aren’t living with a mental illness cling to stereotypes as the only way of understanding an experience that is foreign to them. And according to that NIH report, people with lived experience have the ability to advocate for, raise awareness about and create valuable social connections that facilitate a reduced stigma surrounding mental illness.

People with lived experience do that best by giving voice to their own stories.

By doing so, they not only shed light on common (or even not-so-common) difficulties, but they create an opportunity for connection between them and others who may be navigating something similar. 

In recent years, high profile individuals have, in increasing frequency, shared their personal journeys with mental illness — from Olympian Simone Biles to tennis star Naomi Osaka to singer Demi Lovato, actress Selena Gomez, comedic actor Pete Davidson, senator John Fetterman and beyond. While their personal stories have a broader reach, because of their celebrity, everyday individuals have an equally powerful potential to connect with others through their lived experience. 

In recognition of Mental Health Awareness Month, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration (SAMHSA) divided the general population into a series of categories where experiences with mental illness may be similar or relatable. Here’s a look at that breakdown.

Older Adults: Mental health doesn’t lose importance with age, and older individuals face unique challenges as they age. Performer Donny Osmond has spoken out about living with social anxiety disorder, as has former NFL quarterback Steve Young and entertainer Ellen DeGeneres.

Children and Teens: Younger individuals navigating mental illness have an opportunity to learn healthy coping skills that they can carry with them throughout their lives. And having a safe space to discuss the challenges they’re experiencing reduces the stigma around what they’re feeling. Music artists, such as Gomez and Lovato, along with Noah Kahan and Billie Eilish, may have a greater likelihood of connecting with younger individuals.

Pregnant and Postpartum: Maternal mental health has been given more attention in recent years, very likely due to those who choose to speak out about their lived experiences. While social media influencers and close circles of friends likely play a role in creating connections among those who navigate postpartum depression, entertainers like Chrissy Teigen and Adele elevate the conversation to a higher level.

Racial and Ethnic Minority Groups: Culture plays a defining role in how individuals experience just about everything. Stigma related to mental illness is greater within certain racial and ethnic minority groups, and challenges related to discrimination and prejudice against certain groups of people may exacerbate mental health struggles. Actresses Kerry Washington and Halle Berry have both spoken publicly about their commitment to mental health and the challenges they face.

LGBTQIA+ Communities: Individuals within the LGBTQIA+ communities often face two forms of stigma — related to mental health and related to sexual identity and orientation. Because this community experiences a greater risk of confronting a mental illness, it makes that connection with others who have a lived experience that much more important. Entertainers like Kesha, Miley Cyrus, Lady Gaga and Elton John have all spoken publicly about their challenges with mental health, raising awareness within and beyond the LGBTQIA+ communities.

Prolific mental health advocate, founder of The Kennedy Forum, former U.S. Representative and long-time innovaTel partner and Quartet Health board member, Patrick J. Kennedy, released his new book, Profiles in Mental Health Courage, just in time for Mental Health Awareness Month this year, and speaks to the power of the personal story.

“I believe we desperately need better understanding of, and better conversations around, what it means to live with mental illness and substance use disorder,” said Kennedy. “[This book] illuminates the ups, downs, and daily struggles of just this.”

Personal stories are powerful – what stories are you sharing?

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