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Mental Health Awareness Month: Addressing the Root Causes of Mental Health

May 25, 2023

Throughout May, Interact for Health has been sharing insights gleaned from our “Mental Health and Well-Being in Greater Cincinnati” report. As we work to build thriving communities that are physically and mentally healthy, we start by understanding what support is needed for those experiencing the most mental distress.

This is the third in a three-part blog series that discusses the mental health challenges experienced by our neighbors and outlines the key insights identified in our survey and focus groups:

Mental health is health, and the social drivers of physical health are also the drivers of mental health. As one focus group participant put it:

“I think mental health is the basis of all health.”
– Black community focus group participant

Social factors like affordable housing, reliable transportation, racism and discrimination, access to healthy food and others all come together to impact our health, both mental and physical. We must collectively treat mental health the same as we do physical health, which means exploring ways to prevent and address mental health issues before they evolve into larger, longer-lasting problems. It’s also important to focus on the voices of those most impacted by mental health challenges because those closest to the problems are closest to the solutions.

In the spirit of addressing the root causes of mental health issues, there are interventions we can prioritize, such as: 

Investing in school-based and after-school programs.
These programs provide basic needs (including food and physical safety). They also help build mental health awareness early so as these students grow, they are more in tune with themselves -- physically and mentally.

Focus group participants recognized the importance of supporting our youth through their mental health challenges. As one person put it:

“I would put (money) into the youth, the kids . . . Get them while they’re young, help them learn.”
– Black community focus group participant

Prioritizing building generational wealth within the Black community.
These efforts teach more than just finances. They empower young people with the tools -- and opportunities -- to invest in themselves, their families, businesses and communities for long-term growth and stability.

Providing transportation and childcare solutions, including home visits, for people seeking mental health services.
Something as simple as getting a ride to an appointment or having access to a reliable babysitter during that appointment can help people overcome barriers to mental health care. Our community must come together to address these barriers and then remove them.

Prioritizing housing and employment opportunities, especially for those experiencing homelessness.
Homelessness is a prevalent issue among groups already experiencing mental health challenges. Access to safe housing and assistance finding employment can help improve the mental health of our community members who need that support.

Traditionally marginalized communities, especially LGBTQ+ youth, are more likely to experience homelessness. This is an important factor to take into account when we think of the services and support we can provide to those communities.

“I talk to a lot of transgender men; they all say that their parents cast them out of their families, and they don’t know what to do on the streets.”
– LGBTQ+ community focus group participant

Helping people get mental health services that insurance does not typically cover.
Many who need mental health care are without insurance or have policies that don’t adequately cover mental health care. Creating ways for people to get the care they need, regardless of whether or not they have insurance, would be life-altering and perhaps even lifesaving.

Advocating for strengthened protections for LGBTQ+ people in the workplace.
The LGBTQ+ community needs protections and policies in place that allow employees to take leave to address their mental health needs.

It’ll take all of us, as a community, to come together and prioritize these recommended interventions. Whether at an individual or organizational level, awareness of the mental health challenges impacting our community is essential in the journey toward mental health equity in our region. While it’s important to recognize Mental Health Awareness Month, we must aim to move beyond recognition to action.

For more information on our findings and recommendations, take a look at the report here, produced in partnership with Cohear.

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