May is Mental Health Awareness Month

Image of hands holding a cutout of a head with an area of pink to represent the brain

In 1949, the mental health advocacy group Mental Health America (MHA) organized and promoted the first Mental Health Awareness Month (MHAM). Since then, mental health advocacy groups, non-profit organizations, and government agencies have helped support, organize, and raise awareness about MHAM each year in the month of May. Groups that participate in MHAM, in addition to Mental Health America, include the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration (SAMHSA), and other local, community, organizations, providers, and professional groups.

In 2023, Mental Health America focuses their advocacy efforts for MHAM around the theme Look Around, Look Within. The goal of this theme is to raise awareness about how the world around us impact our mental health, or the world within. Here’s how they describe the theme for 2023:

“From your neighborhood to genetics, many factors come into play when it comes to mental health conditions. We encourage everyone to consider how the world around you affects your mental health.”

In other words, the focus for MHA for 2023 is how the social determinants of health (DSOH) impact our mental and emotional health. According to the American Medical Association (AMA), the SDOH are:

“The underlying community-wide social, economic, and physical conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age.”

To learn more about how these factors can impact mental health treatment, including treatment for substance use disorder (SUD), please navigate to the blog section of our website and read these two articles:

The Effect of Race and Stigma on SUD Treatment

Research Report: Harm Reduction in California

To learn about the MHA theme for this MHAM, please navigate to their website, read their MHAM webpage, and download their 2023 MHAM Toolkit.

The MHAM theme is important, but it’s not what we’ll focus on in this article. Instead, we’ll discuss the theme prioritized by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI):

“More than Enough”


We’ll explain.

Mental Health, Alcohol and Substance Use Disorder, And Self-Empowerment

To begin, we need to ensure everyone reading this article understands the connection between mental health and addiction. We’re moving away from the word addiction and now use the phrase the disordered use of substances. For alcohol, we refer to the disordered use of alcohol. This new approach gives us the diagnoses substance use disorder (SUD) and alcohol use disorder (AUD).

The way we talk about these disorders is informed by the way we understand them. In the past, many people – treatment professionals and laypeople alike – considered the disordered use of alcohol or substance the result of personal, individual failings or inadequacies. The idea was that alcohol or substance use problems were caused by:

  1. A lack of willpower
  2. Poor decision-making
  3. An absence of morals or ethics

We now know that none of this is true. Addiction, or the disordered use of substances, is a chronic medical condition. Here’s how the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) defines the condition:

“…a treatable, chronic medical disease involving complex interactions among brain circuits, genetics, the environment, and an individual’s life experiences. People use substances or engage in behaviors that become compulsive and often continue despite harmful consequences. Prevention efforts and treatment approaches are generally as successful as those for other chronic diseases.”

Now let’s look at how the World Health Organization (WHO) defines mental health disorder:

“A mental disorder is characterized by a clinically significant disturbance in an individual’s cognition, emotional regulation, or behavior. Mental disorders may also be referred to as mental health conditions. The latter is a broader term covering mental disorders, psychosocial disabilities and (other) mental states associated with significant distress, impairment in functioning, or risk of self-harm. While effective prevention and treatment options exist, most people with mental disorders do not have access to effective care. Many people also experience stigma, discrimination, and violations of human rights.”

When we place those two definitions side-by-side, what we learn is not that mental health disorders and substance use disorders are the same thing, or that a substance use disorder is really a mental health disorder, but something new.

We learn they’re both medical conditions that respond to evidence-based treatment, like other medical conditions. That definition brings us to a salient confluence. The medical model of addiction and the medical model of mental illness both work to eliminate the negative stigma and judgment around the two phenomena, and help us understand why NAMI chose their theme for 2023, which, as we indicate above, is this:

More Than Enough

You Are More Than Enough: Why This One Concept Matters

One thing people with an alcohol or substance use disorder (AUD/SUD) and people with a mental health disorder have in common is changes to their self-image, self-esteem, and their belief in their inherent ability to manage difficulties and successfully navigate the ups and downs of life. In other words, for various reasons – including the symptoms of their disorder and the underlying physiological causes – people with mental health and/or alcohol substance use disorders begin to believe that they are not enough.

This idea impairs their ability to heal, and in many cases, can exacerbate the symptoms of their mental health or substance use disorder. It may prevent them from seeking help and support from friends and family. It may prevent them from seeking a professional mental health assessment, and therefore prevent them from receiving an accurate diagnosis and initiating an evidence-based treatment plan. When people with a mental health or substance use disorder rediscover a belief in themselves and remind and/or relearn the fundamental fact that they are more than enough for anything the world presents them, they can embark on a healing journey and commit to the work it takes to manage their disorder and live a full and fulfilling life.

Here’s how NAMI describes the More than Enough concept:

“We want to affirm the idea that people are inherently worthy of life, love, and healing — no matter what they look like, no matter where they are in their journeys, no matter what they are or aren’t able to do. This campaign is a message of hope and inclusion. We share the message that all people, no matter where they are on their mental health journey, are deserving of support, resources, fulfillment and a community that cares.”

With this idea front of mind, let’s take a look at the latest facts and figures on mental health and substance use disorders in the U.S. Once we share the data, we’ll discuss how NAMI suggests we all pitch in to help people in the mental health community realize they are more than enough.

Mental Health in the U.S.: The Latest Facts and Figures

We collected the following statistics on mental health, substance use, and mental health and substance use treatment from the 2021 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (2021 NSDUH). Researchers conduct this survey every year and analyze and report on data from over 70,000 participants nationwide. The consistency, size, and comprehensive nature of the NSDUH make it a valuable tool for treatment providers, policymakers, and anyone associated with mental health or AUD/SUD treatment.

In the context of this article, this data will help anyone interested in participating in Mental Health Awareness Month (MHAM) understand the size and scope of the growing mental health crisis in the U.S.

We’ll start with the most recent reliable data on adults.

Mental Health Among Adults: 2021 NSDUH

The NSDUH uses two general categories to report big-picture statistics on mental health: any mental illness (AMI) and serious mental illness (SMI). Both categories refer to clinically diagnosed mental health disorders. The SMI category describes the level of severity of the disorder, as measured by the level of disruption it causes. When the symptoms of a mental health disorder prevent an individual from participating in the typical activities of daily life, it’s considered serious.

In the data below, we’ll also include the rates of treatment among adults with AMI and SMI.

Adults With Any Mental Illness (AMI)

  • By Age Group:
    • Total, 18+: 23%
    • Young Adults 18-25: 34%
    • Adults 26-49: 28%
    • Older adults 50+: 15%
    • Seniors 65+: 12%
  • Adults 18+ with AMI who received treatment: 47%

Adults With Serious Mental Illness (SMI)

  • By Age Group:
    • Total 18+: 6%
    • Young adults 18-25: 11%
    • Adults 26-49: 7%
    • Adults 50+: 2.5%
  • Adults 18+ with SMI who received treatment: 65.4%

To put that in perspective using real numbers rather than percentages, those figures tell us that 58 million adults had AMI in 2021, and 14 million adults had SMI in 2021. Among adults with AMI, 26.5 million received treatment, and among adults with SMI, 9.1 million received treatment.

Next, we’ll look at the data on adolescents.

Mental Health Among Adolescents 12-17: 2021 NSDUH

Understanding what’s happening with teenagers helps us understand the future. In fact, many of the teenage participants in this survey are now adults. That’s why we pay attention to these statistics and share them during Mental Health Awareness Month. Data shows that with each year, our teens report increasing rates of mental health disorders, including depression and associated symptoms such as suicidal ideation.

Depression Among Teens: 2021

  • Reported at least one major depressive episode: 20%
    • Received treatment: 11%
  • Reported at least one major depressive episode that caused severe impairment: 15%
    • Received treatment: 56%

Suicidality Among Teens: 2021

  • Reported having serious thoughts of suicide: 13% (or 3.3 million people)
  • Reported making a suicide plane: 5.9% (or 1.5 million people)
  • Attempted suicide: 3.4%

In numbers, that data tells us that close to ten million teens reported the presence of depression, close to five million considered or planned suicide, and almost a million attempted suicide. In addition, it’s important for everyone in the U.S. to know this one shocking fact:

Suicide is the leading cause of death for teens age 14-15, and the second leading cause of death for teens age 15-19.

That’s another reason we need Mental Health Awareness Month: our teens are in trouble, and they need to hear from anyone who will tell them that we’re here for them, and they are more than enough.

Next, we’ll look at the intersection of addiction and mental health: co-occurring disorders.

Co-Occurring Disorders

When a person receives a diagnosis for a mental health disorder and an alcohol/substance use disorder at the same time, they receive a dual diagnosis and have what’s called co-occurring disorder. To determine rates of co-occurring disorders among the general population, the 2021 NSDUH surveyed participants for the presence of SUD, AMI, or both.

Here’s what they found:

  • Adults with AMI and SUD:
    • 18-25: 14% (4.5 million people)
    • 26-49: 10% (10.5 million people)
    • 50+: 4% (4.4 million people)
  • Among adults with AMI and SUD:
    • 53% received treatment of some kind
    • 84% only received mental health treatment
    • 16% received mental health and SUD treatment
  • Adults with SMI and SUD:
    • 18+: 2.5% (6.4 million people)
    • 18-25: 5.4%
    • 26-49: 3.3%
    • 50+: 1.0%
  • Among adults with SMI and SUD:
    • 67% received treatment of some kind
    • 82% only received mental health treatment
    • 19% received mental health and SUD treatment
  • Adolescents 12-17 with depression and AUD/SUD:
    • 56% received treatment of some kind
    • 94% only received mental health treatment
    • 8.0% received mental health and SUD treatment

 That’s the size and scope of the mental health situation in the U.S. Among adolescents, experts consider rising rates of depression, suicidal ideation, and suicide attempts a mental health crisis. For adults, rates of mental illness and co-occurring mental illness and addiction are a serious problem, especially when we compare the number of people who need treatment to the number of people who receive treatment. That’s called the treatment gap. One goal of MHAM – and the idea behind the theme More Than Enough – is to use any means necessary to close that gap, and ensure everyone who needs treatment gets the treatment they need.

How We Can All Spread the Message: You Are More Than Enough

The first thing we can all do to spread the message “You are more than enough” is to start small, start local, and start now. What that means is that if you know someone with a mental health disorder, we encourage you to treat them with kindness, compassion, and respect. When people feel seen, heard, and respected, that increases the likelihood they’ll feel like they’re more than enough – and take steps to heal, if those are the steps they need to take.

That’s step one, and that’s advice directly from us here at Pinnacle Treatment Centers. Now we’ll share the advice of the experts at NAMI about how you can participate in MHAM 2023, and help anyone in your life – or you – feel “More Than Enough.”

Mental Health Awareness Month 2023: More Than Enough

  1. Build Connection and Community. NAMI recommends people seek opportunities close to home to share stories, share resources, and/or host community events around mental health and mental health treatment.
  2. Education and Advocacy. NAMI suggests that people involved in mental health treatment share what they know about mental health disorders, mental health treatment, and support for people with mental health disorders. When you share what you know with people who don’t have the information you have, you both enrich your community, and work to decrease stigma by sharing real facts about mental health and mental health treatment.
  3. Create Awareness and Drive Action. If you’re motivated to become part of the mental health advocacy movement, you can:
  • Promote and sponsor NAMIWalks in your community. Learn how here.
  • Become a do-it-yourself NAMI Fundraiser. Learn how here.

Finally, to increase awareness of resources designed to support people with mental health issues,  we encourage everyone reading this article to share these resources:

  • The 988 emergency line is a 24/7 phone line to call in case of a mental health emergency. This line can support people in a mental health crisis, an overdose crisis, or a suicide crisis.
  • SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) will help connect people in need to treatment resources. This line supports people with substance use-related emergencies, crises, or general needs
  • Trevor Project Help Line at 1-866-488-7386. The Trevor Project specializes in supporting members of the LGBTQIA+ community, with a focus on LGBTQIA+ youth.

We’ll close with this reminder:

Treatment for mental health conditions works. The sooner a person who needs treatment gets the treatment they need, the better the outcome.

The materials provided on the Pinnacle Blog are for information and educational purposes only. No behavioral health or any other professional services are provided through the Blog and the information obtained through the Blog is not a substitute for consultation with a qualified health professional. If you are in need of medical or behavioral health treatment, please contact a qualified health professional directly, and if you are in need of emergency help, please go to your nearest emergency room or dial 911.