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Making Progress in Changing the Culture of Mental Health

Photo: Courtesy of Melanie Wasser

Barbara Van Dahlen, Ph.D.

Founder and President, Give an Hour

One in four people around the world have a diagnosable mental health condition, but the majority of those who are in emotional pain do not seek or receive care. Many of those who experience mental health challenges aren’t even aware that there are effective treatments for the conditions that cause them to suffer. Many of those most severely affected end up in jail or on the streets. Basic information about mental health conditions is still lacking, while distortions and misperceptions are common. 

Recognizing the importance of mental health

The impact of this growing crisis is alarming. Depression is the second leading cause of death among young people (15–29 years old) globally. More people in the United States die each year by suicide than in car accidents. While we seem to recognize the link between poor mental health and a variety of concerning consequences—homelessness, substance abuse, domestic violence, child abuse/neglect—we have yet to devote the time or resources needed to change the way we think about, talk about and address our emotional well-being.

In order to ensure that those in need of care are properly identified and receive the treatment they deserve, a complete shift in how we view mental health and mental illness is necessary. Changing the culture is required but it will not be easy. To do so requires an engaging and comprehensive public health approach that educates everyone to recognize and respond compassionately to emotional pain in ourselves and those we love. We all have mental health.  It’s time to recognize the importance of taking care of it.

Picking up momentum

In 2015, former First Lady Michelle Obama joined Give an Hour for the launch of the Campaign to Change Direction. What began as a collective impact effort with 14 founding members and 50 pledge partners has grown into a massive public health campaign with over 500 organizations, including eight regional groups, one of which has a statewide effort. Conversations are taking place to build coordinated efforts in other countries including Canada, Georgia and the U.K.

Other thought leaders and celebrities have stepped up to assist, including Dr. Jill Biden, Richard Gere, Brian Wilson, Chris Stapleton and Prince Harry. They have lent their images and their voices to the effort. Most recently, Talinda Bennington joined the initiative to change our culture through the campaign’s 320 Changes Direction movement. Bennington’s husband, Chester Bennington, was the lead singer of Linkin Park who took his life in July 2017 after a long struggle with depression and substance abuse. 320 Changes Direction will reach those who are hurting—and their families—with critical information and support.

We haven’t reached the cultural tipping point yet, but with efforts like the Campaign to Change Direction picking up momentum, it is only a matter of time before we do.

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