Every year since 1990, the first week in October has been Mental Illness Awareness Week. This year’s week falls on Sunday, October 4th to Saturday, October 10th. Congress designed the week in support of the National Alliance on Mental Illness’ (NAMI) efforts to raise awareness. This year’s campaign is #IAmStigmaFree. For those who have never dealt with mental illness on a personal level, it is just a week. For those that struggle with bipolar, depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, or an eating disorder, it is another week spent fighting to gain back their life. Whether you suffer from a mental disorder or not, it is important you learn these five things about mental health.
1. THERE IS A STIGMA.
As much as we would all like to believe that we have evolved into people with open minds and open hearts, there is still a stigma attached to mental illness. There are people that do not see an altered mind state as they would a broken bone. With this year’s week focused on ending the stigma, we must first recognize that one exists. Our men and women in the military are great examples of falling victim to the stigma. After a deployment, every U.S. service member must undergo a psychological evaluation. Do you think they can pass one under false pretensions? They can, and they can fly under the mental health radar for years. Thousands of military service members suffer from Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, but many will refuse to get help. Yes, the military has psychologists and psychiatrists, but using them can negatively impact a service member’s career. There are still people out there that stigmatize mental illness, and it negatively affects those that really need help. If a service member was shot in combat they would likely receive all the necessary medical care required to heal them. As far as American has come, we, sadly, still do not treat mental illnesses in the same manner.
2. MENTAL ILLNESS IS DEBILITATING AND EXHAUSTING.
Mental illnesses demand attention – they nag and beg to be heard. The woman with anxiety doesn’t know how to drive to the grocery store without fear of a panic attack, and the man with major depression doesn’t know how to get himself out of bed. Mental illness is something as debilitating as a broken leg – it can limit and restrict a person’s life. When a person suffers from a chronic mental illness, the brain is impacted by countless negative thoughts. When a friend or family member wants to help they may often say things like: “You just have to do it. Just get out of bed. I didn’t want to go to work this morning either.” But it’s not the same. The chemicals, or lack of chemicals in the brain dictate a person’s mental state. There is not a way to “just snap out of it” without proper treatment.
3. SOME PEOPLE WILL NEVER GET HELP.
Unfortunately, this is the sad truth of mental illness. Overall, suicide is the 10th leading case of death America. It is the 3rd leading cause of death for those aged 10-24, and the 2nd for those aged 15-24. Every day an estimated 18-22 veterans will die by suicide. Aren’t these numbers scary? Just as heart disease or high cholesterol, mental illness can kill. Even though we know this, we haven’t opened our arms to those suffering. Maybe if we did, more people would seek out help.
4. CHILDREN CAN SUFFER FROM MENTAL ILLNESS, TOO.
Half of the adults who will suffer from chronic mental illness have already experienced it by age 14. Children even younger than 14 have been known to suffer from depression and, consequently, commit suicide. As long as I can remember, I have struggled with intense anxiety. I would make myself sick with worry. At the time, I didn’t know what it was, but I knew how it felt. If a child comes to you with signs of a mental illness, no matter how young, do not sweep it under the rug.
5. YOU CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE.
This week, spread awareness. You can do so in many many ways. Here are just a few. Share your personal story about mental illness. Use the hashtag: #IAmStigmaFree on social media. Get a friend that you know has been struggling the help they need. Share this post. You can start the conversation about mental illness. You can be the change.
Visit www.nami.org to learn more about this year’s mental health initiative and educate others.
If you or someone else has been contemplating suicide, call the 24-Hour National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.