Looking Forward , Sarah Verbiest, founder of Every Woman Southeast, reflects on the new year and what it holds.

MeganImageThroughout the country governors, mayors, and even the president are issuing proclamations recognizing May as National Mental Health Awareness Month. But raising awareness about mental health and connecting people to service needs to happen year round. For me, as the Communications Specialist at NAMI North Carolina (The National Alliance on Mental Illness), it’s one of the most exciting times of the year. It gives me, and the rest of us at NAMI, the opportunity to talk about the importance of mental health awareness and eliminating stigma.

Millions of Americans are affected by mental health conditions. In fact, 1 in 5 Americans will experience mental illness in a given year.

Chronic and severe mental illness affects 1 in 25 Americans and substantially interferes with or limits one or more major life activities. Youth (ages 13-18) are also affected by mental illness; 21.4% of youth experiences a severe mental disorder in a given year. For children aged 8–15, the estimate is 13%. Half of all chronic mental illness begins by age 14; three-quarters by age 24. Despite effective treatment, there are long delays—sometimes decades—between the first appearance of symptoms and when people get help.

Mental illness takes a huge physical toll on the body, and there are also large social implications such as homelessness, unemployment, lost earnings, incarceration, school dropout and racial/ethnic disparities. In fact, African Americans and Hispanic Americans used mental health services at about one-half the rate of Caucasian Americans in the past year and Asian Americans at about one-third the rate.

Individuals living with serious mental illness face an increased risk of having chronic medical conditions. Adults in the U.S. living with serious mental illness die on average 25 years earlier than others, largely due to treatable medical conditions.

Women face unique mental health challenges such as perinatal mood disorders, like postpartum depression; reproductive mood disorders, like Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD), perimenopausal depression; and are more likely than men to experience eating disorders.

Unfortunately, stigma remains a huge barrier to care in many situations, and treatment can greatly improve an individual’s chance of recovery and improve their health outcomes.  It’s important to recognize the signs of mental illness early, so that treatment can start as soon as possible. For more information about recognizing the signs of mental illness, click here:

For those who have been diagnosed with a mental illness or have a close family member affected by mental illness there is hope. NAMI provides peer-led programs that offer education and support throughout the southeast and the country. For example, North Carolina offers programs at the local level through our volunteer run affiliate organizations.

Here are some of the programs that NAMI offers:

NAMI Basics is a class for parents and other family caregivers of children and adolescents who have either been diagnosed with a mental health condition or who are experiencing symptoms but have not yet been diagnosed. This course is also available in Spanish, Bases y Fundamentos de NAMI.

NAMI Family-to-Family is a class for families, partners and friends of individuals with mental illness. The course is designed to facilitate a better understanding of mental illness, increase coping skills and empower participants to become advocates for their family members. This program was designated as an evidence-based program by SAMHSA. The course is also available in Spanish, De Familia a Familia de NAMI.

NAMI Homefront is a class for families, partners and friends of military service members and veterans experiencing a mental health challenge. The course is designed specifically to help these families understand those challenges and improve the ability of participants to support their service member or veteran.

NAMI Peer-to-Peer is a recovery education course open to anyone experiencing a mental health challenge. The course is designed to encourage growth, healing and recovery among participants. This program is also available in Spanish, De Persona a Persona de NAMI.

NAMI Provider Education is a class for line staff at facilities providing mental health treatment services. The NAMI Provider Education class is designed to expand the participants’ compassion for the individuals and their families and to promote a collaborative model of care.


NAMI Ending the Silence is an in-school presentation designed to teach middle and high school students about the signs and symptoms of mental illness, how to recognize the early warning signs and the importance of acknowledging those warning signs.

NAMI In Our Own Voice is a presentation for the general public to promote awareness of mental illness and the possibility of recovery. This program is also available in Spanish, En Nuestra Propia Voz de NAMI.

NAMI Parents & Teachers as Allies is a presentation for teachers and other school personnel to raise their awareness about mental illness and help them recognize the early warning signs and the importance of early intervention.

Support Groups

NAMI Connection is a weekly or monthly support group for people living with a mental health condition. This program is also available in Spanish, NAMI Conexión.

NAMI Family Support Group is a weekly or monthly support group for family members, partners and friends of individuals living with a mental illness.

To find a NAMI program near you, visit

This May, take a moment to think about how you can raise awareness of the importance of recognizing the signs of mental illness and eliminating stigma. Treatment and support is available and recovery is possible.

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Megan Fazekas-King Megan Fazekas-King is a member of the Every Woman Southeast Coalition, Communications Specialist with NAMI, and does freelance work for public health programs and nonprofits. Click here to review her profile and exceptional work.

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