GUEST COLUMN: For mental health, getting early help is critical

Published 8:00 am Wednesday, October 5, 2022

By Wendy Bailey, Executive Director, Mississippi Department of Mental Health

The first full week of October each year is Mental Illness Awareness Week.

This year’s theme, “What I Wish I Had Known,” explores the power of lived experience. As the saying goes, hindsight is 20/20. For someone who’s experienced mental illness and is in recovery, it’s natural to think back and realize that noticing early signs or accessing help would have changed the outcome. This week is about increasing awareness for signs and supports to address a situation early before it becomes a crisis.

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Each day of Mental Illness Awareness Week, Oct. 3-7, the Mississippi Department of Mental Health will focus on daily themes to connect Mississippians to resources that can offer hope.

Monday’s topic was stigma, the powerful sense of shame that might prevent us from seeking help. One way to overcome stigma around mental health illness is to realize that everyday people like any of us have lived and overcome the same issues. Certified Peer Support Specialists blend genuine lived experience with specialized training to provide a unique type of support.

Tuesday was the National Day of Prayer for Mental Illness Recovery and Understanding. In Mississippi, faith is a powerful component of daily life for many. A faith leader might be a family’s first point of contact with a mental health need. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) provides resources to help pastors and spiritual leaders spot warning signs and connect their congregations with the best help.

Wednesday is about therapy. Therapy can benefit any Mississippian of any age or occupation, and is the backbone of treatment for mental illness. Sliding scale mental health treatment is available in all 82 counties in our state through the Community Mental Health Center system, funded in part by the Department of Mental Health.

Thursday is National Depression Screening Day. Screening for depression can be done for free and confidentially online. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, 1 in 5 adults experiences symptoms of depression. Hope is available: the CDC says that 80 percent of patients will improve with treatment.

Friday covers caregiving. Mental illness isn’t just about the patient, but it affects so many loved ones as well. Inpatient treatment strains individuals, families, and our critical care system. Our goal is to offer a full set of intensive community services that help individuals treat their mental illnesses while successfully living within the community. Our partners in the Community Mental Health Centers have made at least one of those intensive services available in each of Mississippi’s 82 counties.

At DMH, our guiding word is ‘hope.’ Individuals and families experiencing mental illness can feel hope that help is available in Mississippi. Hope that things can improve can drive Mississippians to seek help. No matter your location or ability to pay, resources are available to help you in your journey toward recovery. The ingrained feelings of shame that drive stigma ultimately harm more than someone living with mental illness. Stigma harms all of us because it cuts us off from each other.

For this year’s Mental Illness Awareness Week, don’t be defined by “What I Wish I Had Known.” Take the first step and seek help early. Hope is here.

Call the 24/7 DMH Helpline at 1-877-210-8513 to learn what mental health resources are available near you. For more information, visit If you are having thoughts of suicide, contact 988, the new crisis lifeline. To learn more about DMH’s Mental Illness Awareness Week themes, visit