May is National Mental Health Awareness Month.  With national attention on one of the most misunderstood health issues in American society, more people can learn how illnesses like depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia affect millions of individuals and their families.  Groups from around the country are raising awareness about these issues and the need for continued understanding for the victims of these unfortunate illnesses.

Many prominent government officials have made statements addressing the importance of National Mental Health Awareness Month, including Governor Sam Brownback of Kansas and President Barack Obama. In his proclamation, President Obama underscored the need for continued progress. “Mental health problems remain a serious public health concern, but together, our nation is making progress. This month, I encourage all Americans to advance this important work by raising awareness about mental health and lending strength to all who need it.”

In 2012, there were almost 9.6 million adults with a serious mental issue.  Approximately one in four Americans will experience a serious mental condition like depression or anxiety in any year, and about one in 17 will suffer with a persistent mental health issue like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. Mental illness costs the country almost $193 billion in lost earnings.

While strong progress has been made in producing treatments for many common mental health conditions, there is still a serious stigma associated with these ailments that inhibits many people from seeking help.  According to some estimates, almost 60 percent of adults and half of young people from ages eight to fifteen fail to procure medical treatment for mental health problems.  Almost half of all mental health diseases present in early adolescence, but most of these victims don’t receive the treatment they need until much later in life.

Leading groups like the National Institute of Mental Health are spearheading efforts to create new, more effective treatments and understand the mechanisms of these illnesses. Other groups like the Department of Health and Human Services are committed to providing greater access to physicians and therapists for people suffering from mental health issues. Among the groups in most need of mental health services are returning veterans; in order to help these heroic individuals, the President has initiated the National Research Action Plan, which is a multi-departmental strategy to help veterans, current service members and their families receive treatment and support.

Get involved and join the action with organizations like the National Alliance on Mental Illness and Mental Health America.