Mental illnesses are common in the United States, affecting tens of millions of people each year. One in five individuals in the United States will be diagnosed with a mental health disorder in their lifetime, and 17 percent of youth (6-17 years old) experience a mental health disorder.

Mental illness is also common in Washington State, where three out of every seven people will likely experience a clinically significant mental illness in 2021, with that number expected to rise in the coming years.

The pandemic has impacted the overall mental health of individuals across the world, making it even clearer that our bodies and minds are intrinsically linked, and mental wellness is essential to living healthy, productive lives.

There are also direct impacts of the COVID-19 virus. A growing body of research indicates that roughly one in three COVID-19 survivors experience psychological and neurological issues.

This year, key priorities for Comprehensive Healthcare during Mental Health Month include advocacy to state legislators, general awareness and community education.

Leaders of four of the largest community behavioral health providers in the state joined to form Fourfront — a behavioral health collective focused on advocacy and leadership. The group recently advocated during the 2021 Washington legislative session to address chronically underfunded community based behavioral health providers.

They will continue to do so during the proposed supplemental session slated to be held later this year as the outcome of the last session included only modest increases to Medicaid rates which will not sufficiently address concerns with chronic underfunding such as competitive salaries for clinicians.

Locally, throughout the month of May, Comprehensive Healthcare will be providing five different community education classes for local employers, healthcare professionals and community members. On May 18, they held a free, virtual Suicide Awareness for Everyone (SAFE) training. They are also hosting a free and virtual Cumulative Stress, Self-care and Resilience training workshop at noon on May 25.

These trainings 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 comphc.org/events.

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On May 20, there will be a Facebook Live event on the Comprehensive Healthcare Facebook 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 and invite viewers to share their questions. This event is an opportunity to ask anything about mental health including therapy, mental health symptoms, crisis situations and more.

Community education is an important opportunity to teach others the impact of discrimination toward mental illness and the harmful mislabeling of individuals who have a mental illness as violent or “crazy.”

“There is a large stigma associated with schizophrenia, for example,” said Jodi Daly, president and CEO of Comprehensive Healthcare. “This is due to simply misunderstanding the illness and the assumption that all individuals with such a severe mental illness are violent.”

Daly referenced recent local and national news stories about violence and mass shootings, clarifying that the rate of violence among individuals with a mental health diagnosis is no different than the general population.