While accepting an award at the Grammy’s in February, performer Lady Gaga positioned the issue of mental health front and center.

“If I don’t get another chance to say this, I just want to say I’m so proud to be a part of a movie that addresses mental health issues. They’re so important… [W]e gotta take care of each other. So, if you see somebody that’s hurting, don’t look away. And if you’re hurting, even though it might be hard, try to find that bravery within yourself to dive deep and go tell somebody…” – Lady Gaga

The reason Gaga’s speech made headlines, according to Ruth Klein, PhD., director of mental health and compliance for Jewish Community Services (JCS), an agency of The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore, is that people rarely speak out or even speak at all about mental health issues.

“Brain diseases are tough,” she says. “Brain and behavior are seen as you, while other diseases of the blood or the body are things that happen to you.” People tend to feel that those with mental health issues can control their behavior, when that’s often not the case.

Kerry Graves, executive director of NAMI (National Alliance of Mental Illness) Metropolitan Baltimore, agrees. “Mental illness is seen differently than other illnesses like cancer or heart disease,” she explains. “It’s still not acceptable to say, ‘I need a break because of my mental illness.’

Yet, when Medstar Health recently conducted a community health needs assessment, sampling nearly a thousand people in Baltimore City, behavioral health – which includes mental illness and substance use disorders – emerged as the top priority. Those findings signaled “a real opportunity for Medstar to get involved in a more intentional way,” says Ryan Moran, community health director for all three of Medstar Health’s hospitals in Baltimore City.

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The Associated Contributors

The Associated Contributors are writers from The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore.