Wednesday, May 3, 2017

WELLNESS WEDNESDAYS: Mental Health Awareness

"We all need each other, none of us is an island, an autonomous and independent "I" separated from the other, and we can only build the future by standing together, including everyone."  
                                                                                 --Pope Francis, 2017

May is Mental Health Awareness Month.  Every day I work with clients with mental health issues such as bipolar and schizophrenia.  At every Growing Healthy Kids event, we work with kids on the autism spectrum, kids with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or eating disorders, and kids whose parents have bipolar disorder.   

Recently, I was teaching a Growing Healthy Kids class for 12 year olds attending an after-school program.  We talked about processed foods and food additives such as food dyes and why they should be avoided.  One of the questions I asked of the kids was, "How many of you have family members who have ADHD?"  Not surprisingly, about 25% of the kids raised their hands.  Several kids volunteered, "I have ADHD." We talked about why foods such as blueberries, which contain anthocyanin, the pigment that makes some foods blue or purple, are good foods for brain health. 

Being able to talk about our health and the health of our children includes talking about mental health issues faced by all families at one time or another.  When someone is diagnosed with cancer, it affects the entire family; the same thing happens with a mental health diagnosis.  All families need to know that when someone is sick, you go to the doctor, whether it is a physical illness like cancer or diabetes, or a mental illness like depression or autism.  Being aware of a problem is the first step towards diagnosis and treatment.

In 2015, the National Institute of Mental Health estimated that 43.4 million Americans age 18 and older had a mental illness in the prior year.  This number represented 17.9% of all adults in the US (see figure below). 

Prevalence of Any Mental Illness Among U.S. Adults (2015)

Supporting family members with ANY health issues they may be facing is a priority to ensure that we have healthy children, families and communities.  

To learn more about mental health topics, go to the National Institute of Mental Health or click here.  For some great personal and workplace screening tools from Mental Health America, click here.

Together, we can improve the health - and lives - of America's children. 

With love and gratitude,
Nancy L. Heinrich, MPH

Founder, Growing Healthy Kids, Inc.