It’s been more than three years since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. As we progressively come out of that epochal global health emergency, now is a good time to take stock of the hard-earned lessons learned.

Among them is the critical need for better mental health care in this country. When you factor in the toll taken by the pandemic, the often-grim daily news cycle and the countless everyday stresses of modern life, it’s hardly surprising that the rates of anxiety and depression continue to increase year after year.

The numbers tell the tale. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), one in five American adults experience mental illness each year, with one in 20 having more serious issues. Meanwhile, one in six children ages six to 17 experience a mental health disorder each year, and suicide is the second leading cause of death among kids ages 10 to 14.

Fortunately, we have awareness campaigns like Mental Health Awareness Month, which is centered around getting people to practice self-care and proactively seek out the many mental health resources available to them.

For the past 20 years, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has recognized Mental Health Awareness Month every May to increase awareness about the vital role mental health plays in our overall health and well-being.

Here are some weekly themes that SAMHSA is promoting throughout the month:

Week 1: Spreading acceptance and support for people in our lives who are experiencing mental health challenges. Small actions can go a long way, and talking about mental health plays an integral role in encouraging people to get help.

Week 2: Strategies for managing mental health, such as self-care. We need to take care of ourselves to ensure our physical and emotional health not only improves but thrives, and to become resilient in the face of the myriad stressors that come our way.

Week 3: Promoting acceptance and compassion surrounding mental illness. Words matter when it comes to mental health, and the language we use can either further stigmatize or promote acceptance and compassion. Obviously, we need to aim for the latter.

Week 4: Encouraging people to seek help if they need it, and stressing the importance of supporting others through encouragement and celebrating small successes. To be an advocate for others, it’s important to educate yourself on the signs and symptoms of mental health issues.

Week 5: Focusing on hope and positivity and supporting others by sharing key resources during May and beyond. No matter how dire the mental health issue, hope and help are always there.

At The Wright Center for Community Health, we offer numerous behavioral health services, including therapy, psychological assessments, and psychiatric care, for children, adolescents and adults struggling with anxiety, depression, ADHD, bipolar disorder, substance use and addictive disorders, bullying, relationship stressors, LGBTQ+ issues, trauma and loss and grief.

We’re doing our part to expand access to behavioral health care throughout our network of primary and preventive care practices in Northeast Pennsylvania, and we’ll keep striving to do more to meet the evolving mental health needs of our communities.

Leighton Huey, M.D., is a board-certified psychiatrist. He earned his medical degree from Albany Medical College of Union University and completed his psychiatry residency at the University of California, San Diego. Dr. Huey sees adolescent and adult patients at The Wright Center for Community Health Mid Valley Practice.

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