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May is National Mental Health Awareness Month

May 3, 2023

During Mental Health Awareness Month, Interact for Health will share insights on the state of mental health that we’ve gathered from data and from everyday people in our community. As we work to build thriving and healthy—both physically and mentally—communities, we start by understanding what support is needed for those most in need. In 2022, IFH commissioned a Community Health Status Survey that shows that Greater Cincinnati mental health challenges are widespread in the region. About 2 in 10 adults in the region (17%) reported frequent mental distress, which is defined as 14 or more mentally unhealthy days in the past month. The survey also found the following breakdown of adults within our priority populations experiencing frequent mental distress.

These numbers are staggering, which is why it’s important to increase awareness around mental health and shine a spotlight on the ways we can help individuals, families and communities build mentally healthier lives. This data also illustrates the disparities in mental distress that specific populations face – such as people who identify as LGBTQ+ and those living in poverty – due to underlying social inequities. While everyone needs support at times for their mental health, mental distress is disproportionately faced by historically marginalized populations, which requires that we take a targeted and culturally relevant approach to support these groups. The hope is to fight stigma, provide support, educate the public and advocate for policies in support of those experiencing mental distress and those who love them. Those are goals we can all embrace.

To do that, Interact for Health and Cohear, a Cincinnati-based community engagement and strategy company, partnered together in 2022 to listen to residents of our priority populations, including LGBTQ+, Black, Hispanic, rural, individuals living in poverty and youth, within Interact for Health’s 20-county service area. We sought out residents to provide their perspectives, concerns and hopes regarding health in their own communities. Take this response from one of the youth participants about their struggle with mental health challenges. “A lot of people my age have some sort of trauma affecting us, depression, bipolar disorder…We’ve normalized it a lot because instead of being able to encounter our feelings and actually heal from it…When people talk about certain things, we kind of take it as a joke.”

Feedback, like this youth perspective, helped identify three themes to frame next steps in those communities. Here is a summary of the first of those three identified themes:

Build supportive communities and reduce the stigma surrounding mental health.

The stigma surrounding the need for mental health support is a barrier to getting help from mental health experts from differing backgrounds and experiences. In talking with members of the community, the discussions yielded some concrete ways to build more supportive communities, including:

  • Encouraging faith leaders to actively combat the stigma around seeking mental health care in their communities
  • Connecting people to peer support groups for those experiencing similar experiences
  • Developing safe recreation and community-building opportunities for both children and adults in low-income, rural and new American communities

These insights represent an opportunity of how to build better support for mental health challenges. One participant from a rural community focus group said, “There’s a lot of shame (around mental health). . . People are more likely to pretend like everything is OK rather than get the help and resources they need. . . Because people aren’t talking about it, that just creates more shame around it.”

While it’s important to recognize awareness months like Mental Health Awareness Month, we must work year-round to shift the culture and conversations surrounding mental health and well-being in our communities. Interact for Health took these insights to heart as we developed our strategy and priorities to improve mental health in our community. For more information on the findings and recommendations, take a look at the Cohear report here. And watch our blog through May when we discuss the two other themes identified in the report.

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