May is national Mental Health Month. This month focuses attention on mental health and wellness, as well as supporting those who struggle with mental health disorders. For some, being open about their mental health or emotional problems can be very uncomfortable. They may have been raised in a family where feelings or personal problems should be kept to themselves, or they may be concerned about how their friends, family, and co-workers will perceive them if their mental health status is revealed. Others are more open about their mental health experiences or vocal about helping others with these struggles. As a nation, the US has given more attention to mental health over the past couple decades, though services and insurance coverage still lag behind physical health care. Additionally, while some still feel a stigma about personal mental health matters, more and more Americans believe these issues are becoming normalized.

In a new survey from the American Psychological Association (APA), 87% of adults believed a mental health disorder was nothing to be ashamed of, and 81% said they would be friends with someone who had a mental illness. In fact, 79% of those respondents would feel at ease interacting with such a person. Of the respondents, 59% knew someone with a mental health disorder, but some also believed that common issues like anxiety and depression should not be considered to be disorders. Not surprisingly, those who had experienced mental illness themselves felt less discomfort or stigma toward those with mental health disorders.

Despite these positive findings, a number of adults expressed concerns about mental illness. In the same survey, 33% of respondents reported being scared of individuals with a mental health disorder, and 39% said they would view someone differently if they knew the person had mental health challenges. Further, 49% would not feel comfortable dating someone with a mental health disorder and 65% would not allow such a person to watch their children.

When examining opinions based on age groups, young adults aged 18 to 34 reported experiencing the most mental health challenges, but also expressed more shame around these issues. Many of the survey respondents acknowledged that being open and less shaming about mental health disorders would help decrease the stigma and help mental health outcomes. What can you do to support yourself or others with mental illness?