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We know the importance of prevention when it comes to physical illness. Routine checkups, screenings, and general awareness can be effective strategies to catching a disease early and increasing the chances of recovery. The same idea is true of mental illness. When treatment is only focused on the later stages of mental illness, it can become costly not only to the individual, but the community at large. Early intervention can prevent the potential results of mental illness including serious impairment, unemployment, homelessness, poverty, and suicide.

Communities do best when the mental health needs of community members are met. Unfortunately, many who suffer from mental illness do not receive the treatment they need. In fact, nearly two-thirds of the 45 million U.S. adults with mental illness do not seek treatment. Unaddressed mental health issues can have a negative influence on homelessness, poverty, employment, safety, and the local economy. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, effects on the local level include:

  • Homelessness: 26 percent of sheltered adults who were homeless have a severe mental illness. Prejudice and discrimination associated with mental and substance use disorders create enormous housing challenges for these individuals.
  • Economic problems: $193 billion in lost earnings due to absenteeism and other complications.
  • Strain on health services: Nearly 1 out of 4 community hospital stays involves a mental or substance use disorder.
  • Unemployment: of the more than six million people served by state mental health authorities across the nation, only 21 percent are employed
  • Death: more than 41,000 people in the U.S. died by suicide in 2013. Ninety percent of those who die by suicide have a mental illness.

To promote mental health and prevent mental illness, it is necessary to increase protective factors and awareness throughout the community. These strategies should address the needs of children, adults, and families. The most effective strategies emphasize public education and awareness, screen for mental health problems, and include information on appropriate, local treatment options. Communities should focus on programs that help individuals improve communication skills, social connectedness, parental support, and quality healthcare. These skills also help build resiliency–a key component in suicide prevention and mental health.

Communities should also address the risk factors that can make it more likely for a person to develop mental illness. Risk factors can include poverty, risk of violence, child abuse, substance use, and bullying. While it is not possible to eliminate these risk factors, communities can reduce them and ensure that individuals have access to care in the very early stages of an illness.

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