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Why We Should All Start Talking About Mental Health

By Jess Barron ; Updated May 30, 2018

Want to save lives? Start a conversation about mental health with your friends and family. This is a topic that is close to home for me. I lost my younger brother to suicide 16 years ago.

The truth is that we are all at risk of one day developing a mental health issue such as anxiety or depression. Normalizing and talking about mental health helps build empathy and awareness.

More than one in six Americans (over 40 million adults) suffers from mental illness, including conditions such as depression, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, according to 2016 statistics from the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that nearly 50 percent of U.S. adults will develop at least one mental illness at some point in their life.

So, this is a widespread issue that affects a large number of people.

What's more, over 44,000 Americans took their own lives in 2015, according to the CDC, and suicide has climbed to the highest rate in 30 years. Suicide is the tenth largest cause of death overall in the U.S. and the second largest cause of death in people ages 15-34. My brother was 26 when he died.

Despite the widespread nature of mental illness nearly two-thirds of those affected do not seek treatment, according to Bring Change 2 Mind, a national nonprofit organization created by Glenn Close in 2010 after her sister Jessie was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

The reason they don’t seek treatment is primarily the negative stigma. The fear and stigma around mental health issues often lead to inaccurate and hurtful objectification of people suffering from mental illness as dangerous and incompetent. The shame and isolation associated with this stigma prevent people from seeking the help necessary to live healthy and full lives.

Think of it this way: Imagine if you got blamed or judged negatively for having cancer. No one asks for a mental illness, so it’s not right that people react to those with mental illness differently than those suffering from a chronic medical illness.

And I mentioned that this topic hits close to home for me. My younger brother, James J. Barron III, who was a student in the MBA program at NYU's Stern School of Business, committed suicide 16 years ago. It was not something anyone who knew him would have expected, I will always wonder if it might have been preventable if one of his family or friends had started the conversation with him about his mental health.

Bring Change 2 Mind created a 2018 series of videos called "Not That Weird" to demonstrate that talking about mental health with friends doesn't have to be weird between friends. Check this one out:

To help break this stigma about talking about depression and mental illness, members of the LIVESTRONG.COM team wrote candidly about their own experiences with depression to demonstrate to each other and our audience this can affect anyone.

Bring Change 2 Mind also created a set of videos aimed at men in a campaign called #StrongerThanStigma featuring NFL All-Pro Chicago Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall (who talks about suffering from borderline personality disorder), comedian and actor Wayne Brady (who talks about suffering from depression) and musician Michael Angelakos, lead singer of indie electronica band Passion Pit (who talks about his bipolar diagnosis).

Check out their video:

Men tend to shy away from talking about their feelings because it is viewed as negative and weak. “Research shows that men can positively influence each other through group discussions about health,” Bring Change 2 Mind points out.

“Additionally, studies have found that men are less likely to report pain when they are in front of a female clinician, which points to the possibility that men may be more honest about their condition with other men.” So the hope is that guys will start conversations about mental illness with their friends.

The Movember Foundation is also focusing on mental health and suicide prevention, producing the video below to inspire their predominantly male audience to start talking about suicidal feelings.

According to the CDC, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, with one suicide occurring, on average, every 13 minutes. Approximately 987,950 Americans attempt suicide each year. Furthermore, an estimated 5 million Americans are survivors of a friend, family member or loved one's suicide.

In 2015 Facebook partnered with mental health organizations Forefront, Now Matters Now, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and Save.org to roll out a new feature aimed to aid in suicide prevention. If a Facebook friend posts something that leads you to believe he or she might be thinking of harming himself, you can click the little "Report Post" arrow at the top right. There, you'll be given the options to contact the friend who made the post, contact another friend for support or contact a suicide help line.

Suicide is the third leading cause of death among 15- to 24-year-olds, according to healthychildren.org. And, studies show that at least 90 percent of teens who commit suicide had a diagnosable mental health problem at the time of completion.

Bring Change 2 Mind's #MindOurFuture campaign encourages millennials and members of GenZ to upload YouTube videos about their own mental health struggles or a time in which they reached out to a friend or loved one who was struggling.

Check this #MindOurFuture video:

4 Important Things You Can Do to Help End the Stigma

1. Start a conversation with your friends and family about mental illness.

2. Make it a topic of conversation online by sharing an image like the one above on Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter and Facebook using the hashtag #StrongerThanStigma, or, post a YouTube video tagged with #MindOurFuture. See all the Instagram posts with the hashtag #StrongerThanStigma and #MindOurFuture.

3. Check out LIVESTRONG's piece on 8 Warning Signs of Depression That You Shouldn’t Ignore to learn how to recognize the most common symptoms of depression — whether in yourself, friends or family members — and how to get help.

4. Donate to suicide prevention charities and programs (such as the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline) and or participate in races, walks and other events to raise awareness. In 2017, I ran the Boston Marathon and raised over $6,000 for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention in memory of my brother.

About the Author

JESS BARRON is Editor-in-Chief and GM for LIVESTRONG.COM, a leading healthy lifestyle website with more than 32 million unique monthly viewers. In addition to LIVESTRONG, her writing has appeared in Entrepreneur, Fortune and MyDomaine. Jess has appeared on MSNBC, CNN and ABC News and has been a keynote speaker at Health Further and a panelist at SXSW, Create & Cultivate and Digital Hollywood. Follow Jess on Instagram at @jessbeegood and Twitter too!

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