It’s estimated that nearly 44 million American adults experience mental illness in a given year. Nearly 10 million of them experience a serious mental illness that substantially interferes with or limits some major life activity.

Those are only estimates because the majority of people with mental health issues don’t seek treatment.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month across the United States. It’s a month set aside to talk about prevention, treatment and the impact of mental illness.

Mental health issues are still misunderstood by many people. There remains a significant segment of the population that continues to believe that mental health issues are simply the result of poor decisions or a lack of motivation to correct the problem.

That perception has a significant impact and hinders many people from seeking treatment for their mental health challenges. They attempt to deal with the problem on their own rather than be labeled by society. Because of the stigma of mental illness, family members and friends often don’t encourage them to seek help, even as they continue to struggle.

It’s important to understand that mental illnesses, like addiction, depression and eating disorders, are chronic diseases that change the structure of the brain and how it works. As more people begin to understand this, the stigma of mental illness will begin to fade.

Just like medical health issues, a combination of factors can cause mental health issues — and professional care can help treat them!

During Mental Health Awareness Month, and throughout the year, we can also focus on our own mental health. Here are just a few suggestions:

■ Take time to laugh. Spend some time with that funny relative or friend or check out some of the goofy things you find online.

■ Show some love to someone special in your life.

■ Plan a weekend or vacation getaway.

■ If something is bothering you, let it out. Write it down on paper.

■ Spend some time doing something you’re good at to build your self-confidence.

Above all, if you need help, get it. Your primary care provider can help you find a qualified professional in your area.

During May, please keep in mind that mental health is essential to everyone’s overall health and well-being and mental illnesses are treatable.

Mitch Connell, LPC, and Heidi Ninnemann, MS, LPC, practice at Bellin Health Marinette.