May Is Mental Health Awareness Month


One in five Americans lives with a diagnosable mental illness. The month of May has been designated as a time to foster awareness of these disorders and the many people who are affected by them, including family and friends.

by VivaLasViejas VivaLasViejas, ASN, RN (Guide)

Specializes in LTC, assisted living, med-surg, psych. Has 20 years experience.

When was Mental Health Awareness Month established?

May Is Mental Health Awareness Month

The original Mental Health Awareness Month was actually established in 1949 by Mental Health America, an organization dedicated to advocacy for people who live with mental illnesses such as major depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia. It was a week long at the time, and few Americans knew about it until recent years. Psychiatric disorders were a taboo subject back then; they were talked about in whispers---if at all---and usually only in relation to celebrities.

Some modern-day celebrities are now coming forward to discuss their own battles with mental illness, including Demi Lovato and Lady Gaga. They are helping to decrease the stigma attached to mental health diagnoses, and making it easier for us mere mortals to talk about our struggles. Patty Duke and Carrie Fisher, both sufferers of bipolar disorder, were among the first to educate the public about their condition in a time when hardly anyone had heard of it.

But although we have made progress, there is still much work to be done. The common perception of mentally ill individuals as dangerous to themselves and others is very much alive and well, as evidenced by the public's reactions to mass shootings and other horrific crimes. It's almost always presumed that the person has a psychiatric history. While it may be true some of the time, people with mental health issues are more likely to be the victims of violence, rather than the perpetrators.

That is why continuing education on this topic is so important. There is so much ignorance out there. As nurses, we are in a unique position to open a dialogue about mental health; however, we must learn about it ourselves before we can give information to others. Many nursing schools offer very little in the way of psychology courses, and clinicals are often limited to a short rotation on an inpatient unit. I have been a patient on such a ward myself, and most of the students who came in to shadow a nurse were hesitant, even afraid to interact with us. (My own clinical rotation was two days.) That's nowhere near long enough to gain even a minimal understanding of what it is to live with mental illness.

What few people outside support groups and other mental health circles know is that brain-based disorders affect not only the individual patient, but family, friends, even co-workers and bosses. They are some of the leading causes of disability worldwide, and billions of dollars are lost every year in terms of productivity. It can also be very difficult to hold down a job when one is in the grip of his or her illness; and even when he or she is well again, the repercussions of the episode are often severe. I lost several jobs---and ultimately my career---to my own illness, and went on disability in 2015. It was not how I expected my career to end; I don't know if I'll ever work again. And even if I do, it won't be as a nurse...I'm positively allergic to job stress, and nursing, as you all know, is loaded with it!

So I'm asking all of you out there to learn as much as you can about mental health. You will meet many psychiatric patients in such environments as clinics and med/surg units, and you need to know how to meet their special needs as well as possible. They deserve competent, compassionate care when they're acutely ill, and especially when they're acting out.

In the meantime, I'd like to invite you to share your own stories during Mental Health Awareness Month. Almost everyone is touched by mental illness at one time or another in their lives---some of you may have loved ones with a brain disorder, or you may live with one or more of them yourself. We won't judge you or make you feel "less-than". Thank you.

I'm a Registered Nurse and writer who, in better times, has enjoyed a busy and varied career which includes stints as a Med/Surg floor nurse, a director of nursing, a nurse consultant, and an assistant administrator. And when I'm not working as a nurse, I'm writing about nursing right here at and putting together the chapters for a future book about---what else?---nursing.

142 Articles   9,945 Posts

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

5 Comment(s)


Specializes in PACU, pre/postoperative, ortho. Has 11 years experience. 1,102 Posts

My son is currently struggling with depression. He turned 15 this week. He is under the care of a physician, meets with a social worker at school weekly & we've just been referred for counseling.

I worry sometimes that I'm misinterpreting things, making a big deal out of nothing, that he's just a typical teen, but...things he says & the way he has isolated himself tell me differently.

There is also family history on my side: my maternal grandfather committed suicide, my mother struggled on & off her whole life & had suicidal ideations as a teen & at least once as an adult, & my oldest brother has intentionally overdosed using Rx meds & alcohol multiple times. That same brother has a granddaughter the same age as my son who also has been treated for anxiety/depression & intentionally overdosed on some of her Rx meds about 3 months ago.

There have been 2 teenage suicides in our rural area over the past couple months.

So, I worry. A lot. I worry that something I say to him or do will make him feel worse or abnormal, or make it look like I'm treating him with kid gloves. So I try to just tell him & show him that I love him & would do anything for him. And sometimes that's still just being a badgering mom.


31 Posts

I am in the same boat as you but my son is 18. I constantly worry that I am doing everything wrong; am I saying enough? Am I saying too much? The worrying never stops. Prayers to you.

VivaLasViejas, ASN, RN

Specializes in LTC, assisted living, med-surg, psych. Has 20 years experience. 142 Articles; 9,945 Posts

I can't even imagine dealing with teen suicide, although my family has been touched in more than one way by mental illness. One of my kids used to self-harm when she was young (she burned herself on the arms with a cigarette lighter), and another suffers from bipolar and PTSD (he is an Iraq War veteran). Neither one ever expressed thoughts of death, at least not until they were older and talked about it in the past tense, as most of us who have been suicidal at some point in our lives have a tendency to do. I thank God they didn't act on their thoughts.

Rain Mom and momrn, I feel for you. To watch a child struggle with depression is the most helpless feeling in the world. My thoughts and prayers are with you and your families.

traumaRUs, MSN, APRN, CNS

Specializes in Nephrology, Cardiology, ER, ICU. Has 30 years experience. 164 Articles; 21,102 Posts

Thanks for an interesting article.

My son struggled with depression as a teen also - we went thru meds, counselors, multiple school placements, everything good parents do to try to make things better. He did improve dramatically as a young adult, was productive, had a job, did volunteer work. Then, he started drinking and drinking and drinking.

Now, due to a night of ETOH-fueled chaos - we visit him in prison!

However, we recently found out that the day the SWAT team stormed the house where he had holed up, he had a noose ready to go - to hang himself. Fortunately he was sleeping when they came thru the door and he didn't have time to grab a weapon or hang himself. He had also told the people he was with that he wanted the police to kill him!

All I can say is how hard mental illness is...and the fallout for families is immense. My takeaway is that its better to visit prison than a cemetery.

OrganizedChaos, LVN

Specializes in M/S, LTC, Corrections, PDN & drug rehab. Has 10 years experience. 1 Article; 6,883 Posts

I have battled mental illness as long as I can remember. My parents both say they saw signs of bipolar disorder/mental illness but they didn't do anything. I would get very depressed in high school & seclude myself in my room. I also started cutting & starving myself in high school as well.

It got worse after I graduated high school & I lived on my own. I wasn't promiscuous in high school but once I lived on my own I did things I very much regret. Meeting guys online & going to their place by myself & having unprotected sex. I don't know how I wasn't murdered or didn't get an STD.

I also got into 2 very bad relationships. The first bad one didn't last very long & wasn't horrible. But the second one seemed to last forever. He abused me in every way possible (physical, emotional, mental, financial). I even got pregnant with his child but ended up having an abortion that I still regret to this day but know it was the right choice.

I some how applied, got in & graduated from an LVN program but my head wasn't on correctly. I was offered a hospital position right out of nursing school but turned it down for a PDN position because I would make more money. I jumped from job to job. I hated PDN & either would get bored with a case & quit or get fired. I tried working LTC & wouldn't be afraid for my license (way before I joined AN) or would get fired. So I would job hop to try & find a job that I would like. I would try PDN company time after time but learned they were all the same, ditto with LTC. So it made it hard to get a good, reliable job that offers decent benefits.

Then I met my husband & cheated on him who knows how many times. I also was gifted with $150,000 from my paternal grandmother but I managed to spend it all in less than a year. I was finally admitted to a psychiatric hospital & diagnosed with bipolar disorder. But not before another (male) patient took advantage of me while I was in there.

I have calmed down & haven't gone over the edge in any way. I haven't cheated on my husband in years & I don't go on spending sprees. My husband is the only one with a debit card for the account. I follow up with my PCP religiously. I was nervous after I had my second son that I would have postpartum depression/psychosis, but I didn't. I made sure to go back on my meds right after he was born. I fell into a little depression just because I wasn't getting enough sleep but my PCP upped my meds & I am much better.