Did you know that March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month? Or that January is Glaucoma Awareness Month? Or that World Spay Day is Feb. 24?
There are so many awareness months, days and weeks, that it's hard to keep track. So how do they come to be in the first place? Explains Christopher Beam on Slate:
"Many of them date back decades, such as National Diabetes Month or Law Day, which President Eisenhower established as 'a day of national dedication to the principles of government under law.' To get your own, you simply have to ask. Requests usually go through the Office of the Public Liaison, and the proclamations themselves are written by the office of the staff secretary."
Some are a result of presidential proclamations that highlight a specific cause. Many of these awareness months date back to when a particular hot-button cause begged the ear of a president. President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed one week in October Fire Prevention Week back in 1922 to commemorate the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Those who survived the fire initially marked the day with commemorations and ceremonies but eventually decided to use it as an opportunity to educate people about fire safety.
It also helps to know someone in government or to work in government yourself. The federal Children's Bureau runs National Adoption Month, and the Coast Guard sponsors National Safe Boating Week. Did you know that May was Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month and Older Americans Month? Or that June is National Oceans Month? How about that April is Youth Financial Literacy Month?
Indeed the list seems exhaustive.
Is it too much?
"Awareness campaigns are valuable when they start conversations, especially with kids," says Shalom Yachnes, a marriage and family therapist and school guidance counselor in Boca Raton, Florida. "But we do have to be careful. For example, sometimes bullying prevention and awareness programs can take kids who are actually being bullied and minimize what they are going though. Schools can make a huge difference educationally, but the programs have to be run with sensitivity."
And what about for diseases like cancer and ALS? Do all these awareness months help? That depends on your definition. Breast cancer awareness month raises millions for breast cancer research each year, but quantifying the impact of other cancers' awareness months is not as clear cut. It depends on the people and organizations working on the specific cause. "If an awareness month creates the framework for an organization to run charity events, awareness and information campaigns and provide outreach and support, then it can be helpful in heightening awareness around a cause," says Elana Frank, president of the Jewish Fertility Foundation. "A month concentrating on a specific disease or health issue is a helpful way to show that there are others in the same boat and they are not alone. Getting to those people and offering them resources and support is what it's all about."
Frank's sentiments are echoed by Kim Thiboldeaux, CEO of the Cancer Support Community, who writes in the Huffington Post, "We believe that people impacted by cancer, or any serious illness, are empowered by knowledge, strengthened by action and sustained by community. Awareness months may not be perfect, but they do make a difference."