Three out of every seven people in the state will likely experience a clinically significant mental illness in 2021 with that number expected to rise in the coming years, according to Comprehensive Healthcare officials.

The uncertainty caused by COVID-19 over the past year has also contributed to impacting the overall mental health of individuals in the lower valley.

May is National Mental Health Awareness Month, which has been observed in the United States since 1949.

“This month is really about emphasizing the overall well-being of our communities. Recognizing the importance of mental health to overall health and the integral role that behavioral healthcare plays in healthcare itself,” Comprehensive Healthcare President and CEO Jodi Daly said in a media release on May 4.

Positive two-way communications have begun to create a heightened level of community awareness that bodies and minds are intrinsically linked; an essential component to living healthy and productive lives.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) continues to amplify the public message of ‘You Are Not Alone.’ They pledge to use this time to focus on the healing value of connecting in safe ways, prioritizing mental health, and acknowledging that it’s okay to not be okay.

Another goal is to also draw attention to suicide, which can be precipitated by some mental illnesses. Additionally, Mental Health Awareness Month strives to reduce the stigma of negative attitudes and misconceptions that surrounds mental illnesses.

“We lost 90,000 people across the country this past year from fatal overdose. It’s really near and dear to every family, and it’s especially near and dear to me,” Comprehensive Health Care Sunnyside, Advanced Registered Nurse Practitioner (ARNP) Dawn O’Keefe stated.

She attributed the death rates do the isolation caused by the pandemic and increased availability to fentanyl, which is a synthetic opioid.

“It is absolutely preventable and devastating to our communities and our families,” O’Keefe expressed. “It doesn’t discriminate on age. It doesn’t discriminate on socio-economic background.”

There are many ways the public can advocate their support of Mental Health Awareness Month. Social media users can update their network accounts by sharing important and supportive messages online to encourage engaging discussions. Visit the organization’s social media pages which feature images, messages and content available for sharing.

To commemorate the national outreach campaign, Comprehensive Healthcare will provide free and online public education classes for local employers, healthcare professionals and community members.

The local organization plans to conduct a Suicide Awareness For Everyone (SAFE) training on Tuesday, May 18 at 3 p.m. The following week, they will host a Cumulative Stress, Self-care and Resilience workshop on May 25 at noon.

Both programs offer helpful skills essential to recognizing and responding to individuals in crisis or knowing how to approach a co-worker, family member or friend about mental health concerns. To sign up for these events, visit www.comphc.org and click on the news menu to access the calendar of events.

The training activities, along with Youth and Adult Mental Health First Aid courses are available at Comprehensive Healthcare throughout the year. Individuals or organizations interested in hosting or attending the sessions can contact 509-575-4084 or visit their website for additional information.

On Thursday, May 20, a Facebook Live event at facebook.com/comprehensivehealthcare page called, “Ask Me Anything.” Clinicians and a peer support counselor with lived experiences will discuss commonly asked questions they receive about mental health and substance use. Subject matter experts will also invite viewers to share their questions about mental health including therapy, symptoms, crisis situation and more.

Many people who struggle with a mental illness don’t know where to begin to start seeking help. However, it’s imperative the community knows that they are not alone and there are options for coping, Daly conveyed.

Patrick Shelby can be contacted at 509-837-4500, ext. 110 or email PShelby@SunnysideSun.com

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