May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Here are six facts about the observance and its history:
1. It began with a Wall Street financier. Clifford W. Beers had a mental breakdown and spent three years in psychiatric hospitals in the early 1900s, experiencing firsthand the crude, often cruel institutional practices of the day. His ordeal led him to write an autobiography, “A Mind That Found Itself.”
2. The movement gained momentum in the 1940s. After his autobiography was published in 1908, Beers went on to establish the National Committee for Mental Hygiene (now Mental Health America) in 1909 with philosopher William James and psychiatrist Adolf Meyer. The organization established Mental Health Week in 1949. The week later turned into a month.
3. People can share their stories. The National Alliance on Mental Illness chose “You Are Not Alone” for its awareness month theme this year and last. The group invites the sharing of personal stories on its website and emphasizes the importance of connection in this time of social distancing. (Its website also includes an awareness month event guide) This Is My Brave is a mental health advocacy group whose focus is the sharing of stories of mental illness and addiction.
4. The difference between mental hygiene and mental health. The term “mental hygiene” first came into use in the mid-1800s and emphasizes the conditions and habits that keep minds healthy and free from illness. Its relation to psychiatry has been likened to public health’s relation to medicine. Mental health is the aim; mental hygiene is a means to achieve that aim. Beers is considered the founder of the modern mental hygiene movement.
5. A bell is its symbol. In the early 1950s, the National Committee for Mental Hygiene asked asylums across the country to send them shackles that had been used to restrain mental patients. These were melted down in 1953 to create the Mental Health Bell, whose inscription reads: “Cast from shackles which bound them, this bell shall ring out hope for the mentally ill and victory over mental illness.” A green ribbon is another symbol of mental health awareness.
6. The Postal Service has resources to help. The USPS Employee Assistance Program offers video counseling, online counseling and other resources. The program is available round-the-clock, 365 days a year.