Focus on mental health every month

Small steps can lead to big progress in mental health. In America today, approximately 1 in 5 Americans is suffering with a mental health issue; and approximately 1 in 25 adults is experiencing a serious mental illness that substantially interferes with one or more major life activities. Left unaddressed, the negative impact will increase.

The time to act is now. As CEO of Belmont Pines Hospital, my staff and I have the privilege of serving many members of our community who are experiencing some of the most challenging times of their lives — mental illnesses that are often invisible to the casual observer in ways that physical illnesses are not. As a behavioral health industry, we must build capacity to serve the need by attracting new providers, expanding our workforce, investing in prevention and reducing barriers to care.

Since its inception in 1949, May has been designated as Mental Health Awareness Month. This observance provides an opportunity for reflection and action to address the stigma preventing individuals from getting the care they need.

The good news is that there is hope and resources for recovery. Today, positive outcomes are not only possible, they are experienced every day. Like chronic physical illness, mental illness can be diagnosed and effectively managed. Individuals who were once in despair can go on to live their best lives. This is highly rewarding and one of many reasons I chose to work in this field.

In addition, at the end of April, our nation witnessed a historic achievement regarding suicide prevention. The 2024 National Strategy for Suicide Prevention was published alongside the first-of-its-kind Federal Action Plan which makes the strategy more impactful. The Federal Action Plan directed by The White House places accountability for progress at various departments including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Department of Defense, the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Health and Human Services and others. We look forward to achieving meaningful advancements in suicide prevention under this strategy.

What else can we do within our communities to recognize the signs of mental health challenges and assist those in need of care and treatment?

● Listen and show understanding: If you suspect a loved one is struggling, encourage them to seek professional help.

● Share the Crisis Response number 988, a 24 / 7, free and confidential text, chat and talk support line. Military veterans may press ‘1’ for dedicated support. Learn about the implementation of the 988 crisis line in

your community this summer.

● In case of an acute emergency, dial 911 or go to the nearest emergency room. Suicide is often preventable when people at risk receive the support that they need.

● Our schools should encourage students to pursue careers in mental health fields, whether through nursing, medical or vocational programs. We need to inspire the next generation of talented professionals.

Working together, we can improve the lives of Americans suffering with mental health concerns, not just during this month, but every month in every community across the country. Mental wellness starts here.

Eric Kennedy is CEO of Belmont Pines Hospital in Liberty.


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