After a very successful Counseling Awareness Month in April, we turn our attention in May to Mental Health Month. This month, we will continue to raise awareness about and advocate for positive mental health and wellness. While focusing on advocacy, we are decreasing stigma associated with mental illness and encouraging people to access treatment. Through these efforts, we can share information and resources with our clients and communities.
For example, National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day will be held Thursday, May 9. This year’s theme is “Suicide Prevention: Strategies That Work.” The focus for this awareness day, created by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), is to educate communities and stakeholders about the need for services and to highlight evidence-based practices to address mental health issues in youth. If you work with children, adolescents, emerging adults, communities or families, you are encouraged to participate in the awareness day by holding a resource fair, sponsoring a community event, hosting a social media discussion, engaging in professional development, or offering community psychoeducation sessions. To plan your National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day, visit samhsa.gov/childrens-awareness-day/planning.
Every counselor can engage in SAMHSA’s National Prevention Week, May 12-18. This year’s theme is “Inspiring Action. Changing Lives.” Prevention services are critical to promoting mental health and wellness. For instance, in a July 2018 article in The Lancet, Celso Arango et al. found that “universal, selective, and indicated preventive mental health strategies … might reduce the incidence of mental health disorders, or shift expected trajectories to less debilitating outcomes.” With full caseloads, counselors often have difficulty adding additional tasks to their plates. In this case, however, resources have already been developed that are easy to incorporate. SAMHSA offers promotional materials, webinars, a planning toolkit, community events and, of course, the prevention challenge. Learn more at samhsa.gov/prevention-week.
Why is it important to focus on mental health issues and prevention strategies for children and adolescents? As reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 17% of children ages 2 to 8 have a diagnosed developmental, mental or behavioral disorder. The National Alliance on Mental Illness reports that about 13% of adolescents ages 13 to 18 have a diagnosed severe mental disorder, whereas approximately 21% of adolescents will endure a severe mental disorder in their lifetime.
While prevention services are critical across the life span and in various settings, early identification and treatment of mental health issues can have a life-changing impact on our youth. Counselors can lead the way in mitigating risk factors and fostering resiliency. By engaging stakeholders and conducting needs assessments, we can identify what addiction prevention and mental health promotion topics need to be addressed in our schools and communities. After identifying the top priorities, we can then find evidence-based programs to implement.
It is imperative that programs be evaluated for effectiveness for many reasons. First, we need to be able to customize programs for our specific populations. Second, we need to develop and publish research on how professional counselors play a critical role in promoting wellness and positive mental health. Third, we need to articulate outcome data to school boards and community leaders to increase the likelihood of future funding for such programs. Additionally, we need to secure external funding, such as state grants focused on safe and supportive schools, to get started or to continue implementation of prevention programs. Learn more at samhsa.gov/find-help/prevention.
Also be on the lookout for resources stemming from the American Counseling Association’s Promoting Mental Health and Preventing Addiction Through Prevention Services Task Force.
Furthermore, Mental Health America has put together a toolkit that includes fact sheets that can be used with clients. Check out mentalhealthamerica.net/may
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