May is Mental Health Awareness Month

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, a month dedicated to raising awareness about mental health and reducing the shame and stigma that currently surrounds mental illnesses. Below you will find information about the prevalence of mental illness in the United States, sign and symptoms of mental illness, where to go for more information and help, followed by some of my favorite mental health infographics. 

Did you know?

  • In 2009, 19.9% of the U.S. adult population experienced any mental illness (AMI) (excluding substance use disorders) in the past year. 
  • Prevalence of AMI was higher for females (23.8%) than males (15.6%).
  • AMI also was higher for persons with Medicaid or Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) coverage (33.4%) or who are uninsured (24.9%) than for persons with private insurance (17.3%) or other coverage (16.1%).
  • In 2009, 4.8% of U.S. adults (approximately 11 million people) experienced serious mental illness (SMI), which refers to diagnosable mental disorders that result in serious functional impairment.
  • Prevalence of SMI was higher for females (6.4%) than males (3.2%).
  • In 2007, Suicide was the 11th leading cause of death in the United States, accounting for more than 34,000 deaths.
  • Mental and substance use disorders are major risk factors for suicide.
  • Mental illnesses do not discriminate. Populations that should not be ignored include the aging and elderly, active duty military, military veterans, incarcerated individuals, and children in the welfare system:
  • In 2009, 10.8% of persons aged 65 or older had past year AMI.
  • In 2004, nearly half (49.2%) of nursing home residents had a diagnosis of some type of mental illness.
  • In 2008, 10.6% of active duty military personnel (Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, and Coast Guard) reported having possible PTSD symptoms in the past 30 days that suggested a need for further evaluation.
  • A large proportion of inmates report having mental health problems: 44.8% of Federal prison inmates (in 2004), 56.2% of State prison inmates (in 2004), and 64.2% of local jail inmates (in 2002).
  • In 2008, 22.6% of children in the welfare system due to maltreatment showed symptoms consistent with a behavior problem as assessed by a standardized instrument of emotional and behavioral health.

Reference for statistics and graph:

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2012). Mental Health, United States, 2010. HHS Publication No. (SMA) 12-4681. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Signs and Symptoms of Mental Illness

Signs and symptoms of mental illness can vary, depending on the particular disorder, circumstances and other factors. Mental illness symptoms can affect emotions, thoughts and behaviors.

Examples of signs and symptoms include:

  • Feeling sad or down
  • Confused thinking or reduced ability to concentrate
  • Excessive fears or worries
  • Extreme mood changes of highs and lows
  • Withdrawal from friends and activities
  • Significant tiredness, low energy or problems sleeping
  • Detachment from reality (delusions), paranoia or hallucinations
  • Inability to cope with daily problems or stress
  • Extreme feelings of guilt
  • Alcohol or drug abuse
  • Major changes in eating habits
  • Sex drive changes
  • Excessive anger, hostility or violence
  • Suicidal thinking

Sometimes symptoms of a mental health disorder appear as physical problems, such as abdominal pain, back pain, headache, or other unexplained aches and pains.

Reference for signs and symptoms: Mayo Clinic. (2012). Mental Illness: Symptoms. Retrieved online here.

Where to go for more information and help

  • To learn additional information about mental illnesses, including: causes, risk factors, prevention and so on, visit
  • To get mental health or substance abuse resources, visit and
  • For mental health or substance abuse treatment services nearby, call 1-800-662-HELP or visit and visit
  • If you or someone you know is in suicidal crisis or emotional distress, call 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
  • For information about eating disorders or to receive a treatment referral, call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237 or visit their website.

Some of my favorite mental health infographics

Please help in spreading the awareness about mental illnesses. The fact is that everyone knows somebody who is suffering with mental illness, whether you are aware of it or not. It is up to all of us to know the signs of mental health issues and lend a hand to those who are struggling. Shame and stigma too often leave people feeling like there is no place to turn. We need to make sure they know that asking for help is not a sign of weakness, rather it is a sign of strength.

If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments section below.