Mental hygiene important to all

By Ryan Robbins

May represents the end of the school year, finals and, for some, graduation. But more importantly, May is Mental Health Month.

In May 1908, Clifford W. Beers sparked the Mental Hygiene Movement with the publication of his autobiography, "A Mind That Found Itself," which painted a poignant picture of life with a mental illness and treatment in private and public hospitals.

Beers began the Mental Hygiene Movement because he realized the importance of enhancing society's understanding of mental health and the value of preventing mental illnesses. Mental Health Month seeks to educate and remind the public of the need not only to pay attention to our physical health but to our mental health. Each year people with mental illnesses fill just as many hospital beds as people with "physical" illnesses. About 20 percent of adults suffer from a mental illness in a given year. A recent study concluded that mental illnesses cost Americans $148 billion in 1990, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. This includes lost productivity and $67 billion for treatment.

It does not include the immense emotional toll on people with poor mental health, their friends and their families.

As the university heads into finals week, it is incumbent upon the campus not to forget the importance of mental health and the strides we have made in understanding mental illnesses. We must not underestimate the influence education, understanding, tolerance and compassion can have on the prospects of alleviating the potentially devastating effects of mental illnesses. Research has shown that having a strong social support network can greatly reduce one's chances of developing a severe mental illness and can help people with a mental illness to recover more quickly.

With today's increasingly faster-paced lifestyle with e-mail, faxes, pagers and cell phones, it is easy to lose sight of what is really important -- the need for all of us to look out for each other and ourselves in times of stress.

The faculty should be more cognizant of the pressure and stress that increase this time of year; professors should not place so much emphasis on deadlines without understanding the troubles many students face. We all have our problems, but we all react differently to them. Unfortunately, people are still not comfortable revealing they have poor mental health and many people do not understand the impact poor mental health can have on a person.

Show someone you care. Call or write to someone you haven't seen in awhile. Thank someone who has helped you. These things may sound trivial; they won't necessarily prevent poor mental health, but they will promote good mental health. Kind words and forgiveness can go a long way for the recipient and the sender. Sometimes the littlest things in life can bring us the most happiness when we have them, but they can also bring us the most misery when we don't have them.

A mental illness can be fatal, but it doesn't have to be. Each year more than 30,000 Americans commit suicide. For every suicide, there are 50 attempts. It is not possible to know with certainty what drives people to consider killing themselves; triggers vary. But a major theme from survivors is they tried to die because they saw no hope that anybody cared or understood, or would care or understand.

Let us not forget Andrea Amdall, who committed suicide on campus in November. Let us not forget Karl Bean, who killed himself in the parking lot of his fraternity in spring 1994. Or Saulee Glick, who drowned in the Penobscot River after jumping off the old Bangor-Brewer Bridge in fall 1994. There is much more educating to be done on this important topic. Show someone you care. If you need help, call the toll-free statewide crisis hotline, at (888) 568-1112.

For more information on mental illnesses, you can visit the following Web sites: National Institute of Mental Health (www.nimh.nih.gov), National Mental Health Association (www.nmha.org), or the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (www.nami.org).


This article originally appeared as a letter in the May 12, 2000, edition of The Maine Campus.
2000, Ryan R. Robbins.