Breaking the silence surrounding mental illness

For too long, a mental illness was buried under stigma.

While positive progress has been made in reducing the many misunderstandings surrounding this important issue, we still have much to do to address the needs of people with mental disorders. More than 40 million Americans (about one in five) fight drug and addiction every year. Mental illness has many faces; Bipolar disorder, anorexia nervosa, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and prescription drug dependence, to name a few.

Tragically, even though about 20% of the population is experiencing mental health crises, only half of those affected receive mental health treatment. The fear of stigma, prejudice and discrimination often precludes the search for the help they need most. This month of May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and this is the perfect time to break the silence and discuss what we can do to advance mental health in America.
Improving access to mental health resources is something I am particularly passionate about, and I have been advocating for this for years, well before being elected to Congress. Throughout the years, I have talked with many Kansans living with mental illnesses, with families and friends. These diseases do not discriminate, which affects people irrespective of age, sex, race or socio-economic status. I think it is important to raise awareness of this important issue and to help those in our communities who are affected.

At Congress, I introduced and defended the Mental Health Health Care Act, which adopted the House with strong bipartisan support and was finally signed into law. First Aid in Mental Health is an evidence-based education program that provides first-aid training to community leaders such as teachers, police officers and first responders. Training teaches our community leaders how to identify symptoms of common mental illnesses, de-emphasize crises and help those with early signs of mental disorders access relevant mental health resources.

This program makes a significant difference for members of our community with mental illness. Not only does it ensure that people get the help they need, but also an awareness and a better understanding of mental health issues. With programs such as First Aid in Mental Health, we can ensure that no one has to bear the burden alone, but more needs to be done.

This May, I am proud to be part of the dialogue on mental health in America. I firmly resist the millions of people affected every year, and I pledge to continue to defend this cause. Join me in honoring Mental Health Awareness Month in May as we work to end the stigma and break the silence for good.