By: Melissa McElroy

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Established in 1949, the platform’s purpose is to raise awareness about the importance of mental health and wellness. An estimated 1 in 5 Americans suffer from a mental health illness. Psychologist Dr. Emma Topf weighs in on the subject in a Q & A session.


How does Mental Health Awareness Month help get the word out about mental health issues? How can we better educate the public about it?

Mental Health Awareness Month spreads awareness on mental health issues and how to identify them. It educates people about available services and how to access them. It reduces the stigma around mental health and identifies specific ways to advocate for change in mental health policies and access to care.

Educating the public about mental health highlights awareness. Recovery could be celebrated on a larger scale by including it in easily accessible media, as well as increasing targeting specific populations. People may relate more to information about the impact of mental health when it is shared in a relatable context such as the impacts and trends of mental health in the context of specific career fields, age groups, and/or gender identity.

Companies can offer information on what mental health support is offered through the company, or within the community such as mental health training programs, employee assistance programs (EAP), and other wellness programs.


There has often been a stigma attached to mental health issues. How can we destigmatize mental health care?

We can raise awareness through information sharing about recognizing mental health issues, and through vulnerable storytelling and policy change. It’s not always easy to identify symptoms of mental illness. More education is needed for people to understand symptoms of mental illness and types of treatment necessary.

Historically in our culture, there has been and continues to be a mentality of “you should be able to get over it” and “pull yourself up by your bootstraps,” which typically results in avoidance of mental health care and an increase in mental health issues, especially for men. This perpetuates the stigma and results in avoidance or delays in seeking care, poor medication management, and early discontinuation of treatment.

Mental health issues can feel very isolating and lonely. When people hear stories similar to their own experience and the positive impact of seeking mental health care, it can feel validating, decrease feelings of hopelessness, and people may be more likely to seek support.

In addition, policy change needs to occur at the federal and state levels to increase prevention efforts, increase opportunities for early identification and intervention, and increase access to integrated care and treatment. Policy changes within companies can also be supportive to destigmatizing mental healthcare by offering options for taking a mental health day.


One in 5 Americans will experience mental illness at some point, how can we prioritize mental health care and make it more accessible to everyone?

Advocacy and funding are crucial for more supportive policies that support people with mental illness and their families and for better access to care. For many, mental healthcare is out of reach financially because mental health services are not covered to the same degree as physical health services by insurance, if covered at all.

Access to care is challenging to obtain due to the limited mental health resources in most communities, especially rural communities. Even once someone decides to seek care and has been able to jump through the many hoops required to obtain care, it is not uncommon for there to be long waiting lists due to the limited amount of mental health resources offered.


Being a REALTOR® is a very stressful career at times. How can real estate professionals manage that stress effectively?

  • Assess your work-life balance:
    • This career can be very demanding, and it can be easy to find yourself working around the clock or working in place of engaging with family and friends. When you notice your stress level has increased, find ways to return to a healthier state of equilibrium that allows for time to recharge physically and mentally. Preventatively scheduling time (weekly, monthly, quarterly) to spend with family, for getaways, to engage in hobbies, and self-care is the best option.
  • Manage health and wellness:
    • Eating a balanced diet, getting adequate sleep, finding time to exercise, engaging in mindfulness, and finding time to laugh and play all are important aspects of managing stress effectively.
  •  Seek support when needed:
    • Check-in and reflect on your physical and mental health frequently. Seek support when you need it. This might look like finding a mentor within the real estate community or talking to friends and family. However, if your stress level persists, consider seeking professional mental health support.


The data shows that REALTORS® suffer from high rates of clinical depression. How can we address the surge in depression?

To address the surge in depression, it is important to identify and utilize coping skills that work for you in moments of high stress to combat taking the work home with you. Real estate can feel unpredictable at times when working in high stress situations, with high stress clients, or when a sale fails for reasons out of your control. Over time, when the stress is not dealt with, it can lead to symptoms of depression.


How can you be supportive to a friend or family member suffering from depression or a mental health issue?

The more you learn about depression or other mental health illnesses, the different ways it can affect people, and ways to seek treatment, the better you will be able to support someone experiencing it. If you notice someone is suffering from depression or a mental illness it is important to have an open and honest conversation with them to share changes you have seen in them and why you’re worried. Urge them to seek help from a professional, offer to help find and access support (calling to set up appointments, drive them there etc.), and consistently let them know how much you care about them.