Thoughts on Mental Health Awareness Month

In case you missed the Hallmark commercial, May is Mental Health Awareness month and May 9 is Children’s Mental Health Awareness day.  Organizations are planning events across the country, including the Child Mind Institute’s, Speak Up for Kids campaign in which various professionals give free talks next week at different community sites.  My own talk on anxiety will be 7pm Thursday May 10 on anxiety at the Browns River Middle School in Jericho, Vermont with more information here

The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry states that the month is “designed to increase awareness about mental illnesses and help erase the social stigma preventing children and families suffering from mental illnesses from seeking help.”  While it is hard to argue with these goals, it is interesting to see how quickly the concept of mental health reflexively morphs into mental illness as though they are one in the same.   We all know they are not, yet we often fail to incorporate that key distinction in our practice. 

As the Training Director of our Child & Adolescent Fellowship Program, I noticed that our didactic lectures feature a lot of content about emotional behavioral problems and very little on emotional and behavioral wellness.  Our Division leader, Dr. Hudziak, designed and implemented the Vermont Family Based Approach as a way not only to treat illness but also to promote behavioral health.   This shift has been incorporated into our clinical assessments and treatment plans, but there is still a long way to go.

For my part, I am happy to announce that the incoming fellows for July are going to get to experience a new didactic course before they graduate, tentatively entitled “Thriving: Child Emotional and Behavioral Wellness.”   Hopefully when the course is finished we will be able to take the show on the road and present the concept to other places that train mental HEALTH professionals and those who strive to help children developmentally.

What else can we learn, do and promote to reflect the fact that mental health doesn’t end at “no symptoms?”  Something to think about for at least the rest of May.

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