The Month of May: What are We Recognizing and Celebrating?

May is a big month both for mental health awareness as well as for diversity celebrations.  The month of May includes: 1) Mental Health Awareness month, 2) Older Americans Month, and 3) Asian American and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander Heritage Month.  It also includes national nurse’s week (from May 6th– May 12th), which is very relevant to those of us who work in long-term care settings.  Below, we would like to delve a little deeper into May’s week- and month-long events.

Mental Health Awareness Month:

Millions of Americans live with a mental illness each year.  Specific to older adults, nearly 1 in 5 older Americans have at least one mental health or substance use condition.

At the heart of this month-long awareness initiative is to fight stigma associated with mental health, provide support to individuals and family members coping with symptoms of mental illness, and to educate the public and advocate for policies that support individuals living with mental illness.  This is true for individuals in the community, but for those of us working in long-term care, also true for persons residing in skilled nursing facilities and other residential settings.  

Specific to long-term care, excluding those individuals living with dementia, over 500,000 persons with mental illness reside in U.S. nursing homes on any given day1.   Psychiatric and behavioral symptoms of mental illness are often a primary factor contributing to nursing home placement.  Individuals with serious mental illness ([SMI], e.g., schizophrenia and bipolar disorder) are increasingly aging into older adulthood, and are overrepresented in residential long-term care settings. Individuals with SMI in residential settings are more likely to be younger (i.e., over half are between 18-64 years of age) and have more behavioral challenges compared to individuals in the community with the same diagnosis 1, 2.    

Since 2018, the National Council on Aging (NCOA), along with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSA) and the US Administration for Community Living (ACL),  designated one day in May as  National Older Adult Mental Health Awareness Day.   Their goal is to raise awareness of older adults’ mental health needs, identify available mental health services, and promote evidenced based prevention, treatment, and supportive services.  

Older Americans Month:

While recognition of mental health needs is an important focus in may, May also represents “Older Americans Month” in general, which aims to recognize the contributions of older adults across the nation.  It also increases awareness for the needs of our growing older adult population and encourages increased services and community involvement to support our nation’s older adults. 

 Asian American and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander Heritage Month

During May, we also recognize the Asian American and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander Heritage Month, where we celebrate the history and achievements of Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders (AANHPIs) across our Nation. According to census data, there is an 81% projected increase in Asian older adults in the general population from 2016 to 2030 (SAMSA, 2019). Echoing the statements made by the U.S., “Asian Americans, and Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders make our Nation more vibrant through diversity of cultures, languages, and religions.  There is no single story of the AANHPI experience, but rather a diversity of contributions that enrich America’s culture and society.”  This year, this heritage month is more than just a celebration, but also a recognition of the historical and ongoing racial discrimination that exists for AANHPIs, as well as the heightened fear felt by many Asian American communities in the wake of increasing rates of anti-Asian harassment and violence during the COVID-19 pandemic.  The voices of our Asian American clients, colleagues, friends and family are calling out for all of us to stand with them and disavow violence and discrimination happening to Asian Americans, making this year’s Asian American and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander Heritage Month both a celebration and a call to action.

National Nurses Week:

National Nurses Week is observed each year from May 6-12 to acknowledge and pay tribute to the vital role nurses play in society. The last date marks Florence Nightingale’s birthday. 

In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, nursing professionals of all kinds–nurses, CNA’s, and nurse practitioners–were one of the few points of contact for patients in nursing homes and other care settings. These colleagues served a critical role caring for and protecting residents’ physical health and emotional needs, with many risking or losing their own lives as they upheld these duties. They facilitated communication between isolated residents and their loved ones, and at times, were the only ones able to be with them at the end of life.

On this year’s Nurses Week, PLTC honors the contributions and sacrifices of nursing professionals on the frontlines of care both in the U.S. and globally during the worldwide pandemic.


1.        Grabowski, D. C., Aschbrenner, K. A., Feng, Z., & Mor, V.  (2009).  Mental illness in nursing homes: Variations across states.  Health Affairs, 28: 689-700.

2.        McCarthy, J. F., Blow, F. C., & Kales, H. C. (2004). Disruptive behaviors in Veterans Affairs nursing home residents: How different are residents with serious mental illness? Journal of the American Geriatric Society, 52: 2031-2038.

SAMSA, 2019. Older Adults Living with Serious Mental Illness.

-Submitted on behalf of the PLTC DE&I Committee

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