Community

Social Work Experts Discuss Importance of Mental Health Awareness, Education

By Drexler B. James ’13 |
October 10, 2018

The color lime green represents mental health awareness, an issue which is specifically highlighted during the first week in October every year.

Arising concern in recent years is the number of people who deal with mental illness. Nearly one in five adults in the United States lives with a mental illness, according to data collected by the National Institute of Mental Health.

Mental Illness Awareness Week, which is the first week of October, and World Mental Health Day, which is Oct. 10, both open the door for conversations concerning the stigma surrounding mental health and mental illness.

“It is always important to talk about and understand how mental health impacts individuals, from young children to older adults,” said Ana Leon, a professor in UCF’s School of Social Work. “Mental health concerns are important not only in America, but globally.”

Half of all mental illnesses begin by the age of 14, but most cases go undetected and untreated, according to data collected by the World Health Organization. Young adults, ages 18-25, have the highest prevalence of any mental illness (22.1 percent) compared to adults aged 26-49 (21.1 percent) and older adults over 50 (14.5 percent).

“Mental health issues place individuals at risk for other problems such as substance abuse, other health issues and homelessness,” said Olga Molina, an associate professor in the School of Social Work with expertise in mental health.

“Mental health concerns are important not only in America, but globally.”  – Ana Leon, a professor in UCF’s School of Social Work.

“When you consider the various situations involving individuals who have engaged in gun violence or other aggressive acts, we always need to ask ourselves whether there were signals indicating that there a mental-health problem,” added Leon, an expert in mental health and pediatric health.

Mental illness can manifest in many different ways, including high anxiety, depression, eating disorders and suicide. Suicide is one of the leading causes of death among young adults, according to World Health Organization data.

Recognizing subtle changes in a person’s behavior, such as changes in his or her daily routine, emotional changes and less social interactions, can indicate that something is wrong.

The best thing to do is reach out to an individual and ask them questions, offer support and let them know you are there for them, said Kimberley Gryglewicz, an assistant professor in the School of Social Work.

“People are reluctant to ask [questions] because they are afraid of what the person will say, or they [feel like they] are not adequately prepared or they may push a person to do something,” said Gryglewicz, an expert in mental health and suicide prevention.

Conversations about mental health will help change the stigma often associated with it in society. This could change how to address mental health on a national and international scale, Molina said.

“There needs to be more funding for mental health services that target individuals of all ages and diverse race/ethnicities if we are going to make a difference in improving the well-being of individuals and families impacted by mental health problems,” Molina said.

In the meantime, family members and friends can begin reaching out to support systems or begin looking for local resources for help.

“A large majority of people deal with mental-health issues, but they may be too afraid to come out and say so,” Gryglewicz said. “It’s okay to reach out for help. The more people seek out help, the less stigmatizing it will be. We need to debunk myths and misconceptions about mental-health problems and convey messages of hope.”

Here are some available resources for students to utilize for mental health concerns:

  • UCF CARES: 407-823-5607
  • Suicide Hotline: 1-800-273-TALK
  • In a case of an emergency, call 911 and speak with a CIT officer