In a recent football game, the San Francisco 49ers were playing the Texans. Although pink is not in either team’s color scheme, the both teams sported all sorts of pink-paraphernalia as part of their uniforms as a way to honor Breast Cancer Awareness month. What was once never talked about in polite company, and rarely among friends, is now mainstream because of annual awareness campaigns.
Some annual October campaigns, like Breast Cancer Awareness and Domestic Violence Awareness, are highly publicised and mainstream. Others, you never hear about. Here’s a partial list of some of the health-related awareness issues for the month of October:
- Mental Illness Awareness Week
- Celiac Sprue Awareness Month
- Healthy Lung Month
- National Down Syndrome Awareness Month
- National Infertility Awareness Month
- National Lupus Erythematosus Awareness Month
- National Spina Bifida Awareness Month
- National Substance Abuse Prevention Month
- Rett Syndrome Awareness Month
- Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) Awareness Month
- World Blindness Awareness Month
Why do we know and hear a lot about breast cancer, but virtually nothing about mental illness or any of the other issues on the list? Breast cancer awareness and participation in breast cancer awareness programs has penetrated every strata of American society and culture, only the only time we hear about mental illness is when there is a mass shooting?
I am all for breast cancer awareness campaigns. I had an uncle (!) die from breast cancer and a grandmother who had breast cancer. I’m in the age group of women who have a six percent chance of developing breast cancer and yearly mammograms are an important health screening.
Mental illness, however, affects a greater percentage of the overall American population and we are very uncomfortable and uninformed about it. Twenty-six percent of Americans over the age of 18 suffer from diagnosable mental illness. That is one in four Americans, men and women. Six percent, or one in seventeen, suffer from serious mental illness.
And then there is substance abuse. I cannot think of a single family I know that is not affected by substance abuse! If we consider underage drinking (kids age 12 to 18), more kids admit to drinking this past month than all of the people in Michigan! Ten million (!!) American kids admit to drinking just this past month! Did you know that? I know I was not aware of the number was so high!
Most of us already feel inundated with worthy causes and the pressure to donate or participate in worthy cause events. Obviously awareness campaigns work as we have seen with annual breast cancer awareness over the past couple of decades. Everyone jumps on board – and that’s a great thing.
We also need to find a way to raise awareness, educate and reduce stigma, and talk about these other issues that affect our family, friends, colleagues, and neighbors. Being aware makes us more thoughtful and sensitive to others who now struggle in isolation because “someone” has made pejorative remarks.
This side of eternity, we all are afflicted with something. It’s time we are aware of the issues we don’t talk about because someone we know is struggling and we are not even aware.