The Riggs Blog

We Must Do More Than "Raise Awareness." We Must Take Action!

By Kim Winnegge, L.C.S.W.

I put off writing about National Mental Health Awareness Month until the very last minute. At first, I justified it: I was very busy at work, I had a lot of paperwork, I was just starting a new yoga class. But the fact truly was this: I was putting it off.

Why?

There are personal, significant, life-changing events that spur all of us into action. We may annually sign up for the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life in order to raise funds for cancer prevention measures and treatments so our mothers and sisters might be safe from breast cancer, our fathers and brothers safe from prostate cancer, our children safe from leukemia. We may plaster bumper stickers on our cars or pin buttons to our backpacks reminding people to join us walking or give to charity or donate blood. These actions are done with purpose and with passion. Likewise, there are months, weeks, and days dedicated to raising the awareness of others about moments in our lives that have changed us forever.

I walked in a SIDS 5K in last September. My niece was 6 months old when she died unexpectedly and by unknown causes during her fifth day of daycare. I can tell you the day she died, the time I got the call, and about the grief I have experienced every day since. There is poignancy in joining a cause, in knowing that there are many others who know a piece of what you are going through. So I am not suggesting ending these months, or 5ks, or days of remembrance.

I am simply questioning why we are limiting ourselves to the vague and somewhat limited goal of “raising awareness.” I’ve given you one example of where I've been personally affected. I’m sure many of you could chime in with your own stories of why you pin on your ribbons, or have your car magnets, and I am certainly not trying to devalue your reasons for spreading the cause any more than I would want to devalue my own. But I am convinced that we can do more.

Not all of us all are called to the helping profession. Not all of us are surgeons, firefighters, doctors, social workers, or nurses. But we are all helpers. Why else would you sign the petitions, buy the placards, put up the lawn signs, or pull out the rainbow flags? Why else would you show your alliance to these important causes? And how can we keep the momentum going beyond days or weeks or months of awareness?

I realize the irony of putting off this blog entry until May 31. Maybe there is some divine justice in that. Maybe I don't need justification; instead, I wanted to show that I am impassioned about the causes I am moved by for more than just a month. Yes, I think it is vital we raise awareness for mental health in May, and it is great to have a certain time of year we can all rally together to the cause. But if this call to action was published in June or September, would it be any less important?

October alone is designated Domestic Violence Awareness Month; Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender History Month; and National Bullying Prevention Month. Each of these causes are important. Each of these causes deserves more than a corner of the calendar already crowded by Columbus Day and Halloween. We must do more than "raise awareness." We must take action. 

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