Sen. Jeff Smith: You are not alone: Recognizing Mental Health Awareness Month –

You are not alone. You may hear this often, but especially during May and Mental Health Awareness Month. Historically, there have been stigmas attached to mental illness, preventing people from talking about it or even considering what it really is. As a society we can make tremendous differences if only we accept that the brain is like any other organ in our body. We need to take care of our mental health just as much as our physical health.

Over the last year, more Americans struggled with their mental health as a result of the pandemic. People experienced greater isolation and stress, which contributed to increased anxiety and depression. During Mental Health Awareness Month and beyond, it’s important that we have conversations about our mental health needs and fully understand it’s OK to not be OK. Many Americans struggle with mental health, but there are people and resources available to help and provide support.

Mental health is prevalent within the United States and disproportionately impacts certain populations. NAMI reports that one in five adults each year will experience some form of mental illness each year while less than half will seek treatment.

It’s worth noting that 50% of all lifetime mental illness begins by age 14 and 75% by age 24. This statistic certainly illuminates the need to treat symptoms as early as possible. Sadly, the average length of time between the onset of mental illness symptoms and treatment is 11 years. This gives some indication as to how difficult it can be to diagnose mental illness at such a young age and work with affected parties on early intervention strategies.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death in the 10 to 34 year age group, and the 10th leading cause overall. This is a tragedy families should never have to endure; we can reduce those numbers dramatically with greater mental health awareness and support.

Members of the LGBTQ community experience societal prejudice and discrimination, which contribute to higher rates of mental illness. Lesbian, gay and bisexual youth are four times more likely to attempt suicide than straight youth. Even more shocking is the fact that transgender adults are 12 times more likely to attempt suicide. With those statistics on our conscience, it would be wise for politicians to stop ostracizing the LGBTQ community and develop policies inclusive of all identities.

Additional statistics show just how prevalent mental health illness is in our communities. More than 20% of citizens experiencing homelessness, 37% of incarcerated adults and 70.4% of youth in the juvenile justice system suffer from a diagnosed mental illness. Forty-one percent of Veterans Health Administration patients suffer from a mental health disorder or drug addiction.

There is often a connection between a drug abuse disorder and mental illness, with stigmas attached to both. For too long, our society has blamed the victims of drug addiction and mental illness for their disease. With this mindset, there was rarely any compassion or services for people who needed help.

Mental health diagnosis and treatment continue to be inaccessible for many Americans. Today 55% of U.S. counties still don’t have a single practicing psychiatrist. Even if mental health treatment is nearby, affordability of care is a major concern. Fortunately, laws have been in place and amended over time to ensure that patients with mental illness are not discriminated against. But there’s still more we can do to improve accessibility and affordability and remove barriers for Americans seeking support.

Much has been learned about mental health illness and treatment needs, but we still have a lot to learn. We risk paying a high cost if we don’t accept that mental illness exists. Though May is Mental Health Awareness Month, the weight of a mental illness impacts those who suffer all year long. Be understanding and compassionate as you would with anyone who suffers any other illness. And for those who suffer: You are not alone.

Information and statistics in this column come from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).

Sen. Jeff Smith, D-Eau Claire, represents Wisconsin’s 31st Senate District, which includes all of Buffalo and Pepin counties and portions of Trempealeau, Pierce, Dunn, Eau Claire and Jackson counties and very small portions of Chippewa and St. Croix counties.

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NAMI offers mental illness support for faith-based communities – Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI — The National Alliance on Mental Illness is set to sponsor speakers who will share their personal stories of recovery from mental illness in a free, online presentation designed for faith-based communities from noon to 1 p.m. on Friday, May 28.

The “In Our Own Voice” speakers provide a unique public education program in which trained speakers share their journey with mental illness, hope, and recovery. This special one-hour presentation is for people who are part of a faith community and want to learn more about mental illnesses as well as resources to support their recovery or the recovery of their loved ones, a release said.


To register for this presentation, click on “Classes” at

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Female lawyers more likely to report stress, risky drinking than male lawyers

Work-related factors impact the high rates of stress, risky drinking, and attrition in lawyers differently depending on gender, according to a study published May 12, 2021 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Justin Anker from the University of Minnesota Medical School and Patrick Krill from Krill Strategies LLC, USA.

Recent national reports indicate lawyers suffer from especially high rates of depression, anxiety, and substance misuse, as well as high rates of attrition, particularly among women. In this study, Anker and Krill surveyed members of the California Lawyers Association and the D.C. Bar to learn more about work-related factors that may be predictive of stress (due to its links with depression and anxiety as both a cause and consequence), alcohol misuse, and attrition among lawyers.

2,863 men and women currently working in law responded to the survey (which was randomly sent to 80,000 individuals in the participating bar associations), with women making up about 51 percent of the final sample. Overall, the results showed men and women differ with respect to both the prevalence of these problems (stress, substance misuse, and attrition) as well as the degree to which workplace factors contributed to the problems.

67 percent of the sample reported working over 40 hours per week, and nearly 25 percent reported working over 51 hours per week on average. Younger attorneys were 2-4 times more likely than their older colleagues to report moderate or high stress. High work overcommitment was associated with stress for both men and women, but this relationship was stronger for women. 30 percent of respondents screened positive for high-risk hazardous drinking (though only 2 percent reported being diagnosed with an alcohol use disorder), and a significantly greater proportion of women compared to men engaged in risky drinking (56 percent vs. 46 percent) and high-risk/hazardous drinking (34 percent vs. 25 percent). Finally, more women than men (24 percent vs. 17 percent) contemplated leaving law due to mental health problems, burnout, or stress — and predictors for this response differed between the sexes. Women with a high work-family conflict score were 4.5 times more likely to leave or consider leaving law; men reporting high work overcommitment were more than twice as likely to consider leaving. Interestingly, men who scored high on the perceived likelihood of promotion scale were 2.5 times less likely to consider leaving — but there was no association between these two items for women.

The authors note their survey occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic — though they made efforts to assess how COVID-19 might have impacted their respondents within the survey as well as in their results overall, there are still likely unaccounted effects of the pandemic present. They also note their survey didn’t ask about help-seeking in respondents; however, the results still clearly indicate mental health problems, alcohol misuse, and gender disparities are significant problems in the legal profession.

Krill adds: “These illuminating findings reveal troubling levels of distress within the legal profession, most notably for women, but they also provide vitally important trail markers for the path to improvement. It is our hope that the profession will now follow that path.”

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Materials provided by PLOS. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

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Mental Health Awareness Month: How to support your loved ones – Spectrum News 1

OHIO — May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and according to a 2019 report from the National Institute of Mental Health, one in five Americans struggle with a mental illness.

The pandemic has resulted in a surge of reported cases of anxiety and depression, according to experts. Anxiety disorders affect 18% of the U.S. population and about 6.7% of adults struggle with depression, according to the Anxiety & Depression Association of America

Corey Minor Smith, a national mental health advocate, said mental illness continues to be a stigma in many families and minority communities. 

“We have a lot of stereotypes. We have negative images and perceptions of people who are living with severe mental illness,” she said. “And many times, it’s just untreated behaviors. So as people watch movies and see shows like Criminal Minds, you see negative images of individuals living with severe mental illness.”

She gave some advice to help loved ones struggling with mental illness: Educate yourself about the illness and take time to research it, learn about the mental health services in the community without guilt and have realistic expectations. 

Watch the full interview above for some more tips. 


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Petting therapy dogs enhances thinking skills of stressed college students

For college students under pressure, a dog may be the best stress fighter around.

Programs exclusively focused on petting therapy dogs improved stressed-out students’ thinking and planning skills more effectively than programs that included traditional stress-management information, according to new Washington State University research.

The study was published today in the journal AERA Open, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Educational Research Association. The paper demonstrated that stressed students still exhibited these cognitive skills improvements up to six weeks after completion of the four-week-long program.

“It’s a really powerful finding,” said Patricia Pendry, associate professor in WSU’s Department of Human Development. “Universities are doing a lot of great work trying to help students succeed academically, especially those who may be at risk due to a history of mental health issues or academic and learning issues. This study shows that traditional stress management approaches aren’t as effective for this population compared with programs that focus on providing opportunities to interact with therapy dogs.”

The researchers measured executive functioning in the 309 students involved in the study. Executive function is a term for the skills one needs to plan, organize, motivate, concentrate, memorize: “all the big cognitive skills that are needed to succeed in college,” Pendry said.

Pendry conducted this study as a follow up to previous work, which found that petting animals for just 10 minutes had physiological impacts, reducing students’ stress in the short-term.

In the three-year study, students were randomly assigned to one of three academic stress-management programs featuring varying combinations of human-animal interaction and evidenced-based academic stress management. The dogs and volunteer handlers were provided through Palouse Paws, a local affiliate of Pet Partners, a national organization with over 10,000 therapy teams.

“The results were very strong,” Pendry said. “We saw that students who were most at risk ended up having most improvements in executive functioning in the human-animal interaction condition. These results remained when we followed up six weeks later.”

Many universities, including WSU, have provided academic stress management programs and workshops for many years. These are traditionally very similar to college classes, where students listen to an expert, watch slideshows and take notes. They’re often evidence-based courses that talk about ways to get more sleep, set goals, or manage stress or anxiety.

“These are really important topics, and these workshops are helping typical students succeed by teaching them how to manage stress,” Pendry said. “Interestingly though, our findings suggest that these types of educational workshops are less effective for students that are struggling. It seems that students may experience these programs as another lecture, which is exactly what causes the students to feel stressed.”

Human-animal interaction programs help by letting struggling students relax as they talk and think about their stressors. Through petting animals, they are more likely to relax and cope with these stressors rather than become overwhelmed. This enhances students’ ability to think, set goals, get motivated, concentrate and remember what they are learning, Pendry said.

“If you’re stressed, you can’t think or take up information; learning about stress is stressful!” she said.

Animal sessions aren’t just about changing behavior; they help students engage in positive thoughts and actions.

“You can’t learn math just by being chill,” Pendry said. “But when you are looking at the ability to study, engage, concentrate and take a test, then having the animal aspect is very powerful. Being calm is helpful for learning especially for those who struggle with stress and learning.”

The study was supported by a grant through the WALTHAM Human-Animal Interaction Collaborative Research Program.

Story Source:

Materials provided by Washington State University. Original written by Scott Weybright. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

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