Mental Health Awareness Month has been celebrated in May since 1949 to encourage people to seek help for mental illnesses and to encourage others to embrace those who suffer from mental illness.

Picture this:

You wake up one morning and prepare to start your day. After cursing out your alarm, yawning, stretching, and putting your feet on the floor, you slide your feet into your slippers, stand up, and instead of walking to the bathroom to rectify that breath situation you got going on, you dive back into your covers, shaking, and burst into tears. For many people, this is reality. It’s not that they just super don’t want to go to work – these people suffer from panic disorder, a crippling mental illness that is characterized by sudden attacks of debilitating fear.

About 3.3 million American adults suffer from some kind of anxiety disorder. They’re among us every day, attempting to lead “normal” lives with the rest of us. Oftentimes, we never realize there is something different about the people we see on a daily basis, and more often than not, when we notice anxiety we dismiss it as “overreacting,” or call the person a “drama queen.”

While anxiety is a common mental illness, others like depression, various eating disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) , and even acute stress are commonly reported among the 42.5 million American adults diagnosed with mental disorders every year. Unfortunately, many people go undiagnosed because they’ve either been told they need to “get over it,” they do not realize they have an illness, or they’re embarrassed because of the stigma associated with seeking mental help.

1 in 5 American adults have suffered from some kind of mental illness.

1 in 5 American adults have suffered from some kind of mental illness.

Enter the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

According to their statistics, about 1 in 5 adults in the United States will have suffered from a mental disorder at some time in his or her life. Mental illness is extremely common, even if only temporary, and it affects all facets of the ill person’s life, as well as the lives of the people around him.

I know, for a fact, that I have been depressed at various times in my life, but the potency of depression recently hit my world in the worst way when I had the displeasure of attending the funeral of a friend’s 13-year-old daughter who committed suicide. Ceili was adorable, generous, and a great singer, sister, and friend. However, there was a sadness inside of her that no one could relieve, and many did not even know existed. It is difficult to get 13-year-olds to do much of anything outside of their computers or cell phones, thus, the resolve it took this baby to kill herself provides a glimpse of the inner turmoil people who struggle with mental illness face daily.

It is for kids like Ceili – a girl whom everyone adored and who found wonder in everything, yet still harbored a deep hurt inside –  that the NAMI works. It is for men like my friend Bobby – someone who was always happy (or maybe too happy?) – who took his life several years ago that mental health awareness advocates work so diligently to break the stigma associated with seeking help for mental illnesses and disorders.

Yes, mental health professionals are driving the campaign to break the stigma, but it is up to all of us to check on our friends and loved ones while maintaining our own mental health. Mental illnesses affect everyone, and if there is anything we can do to ensure our loved ones end their days with semicolons instead of periods, we must do it. Your actions could literally save a life.

Mental illness has no aesthetic. Be on the lookout for your friends, get help, and break the stigma.

For more information on Mental Health Awareness Month, visit the NAMI Web site.

For emergency help for yourself or someone you know who struggles with mental illness, call the NAMI crisis hotline at 800-950-NAMI, or text “NAMI” to 741741.