Chuck, I have a mental illness and am so tired of how society stereotypes those of us who do. Anything you can do to help remove the stigmas and talk about how prevalent mental illnesses are? – M. Williams, Oregon
Great timing. Mental Illness Awareness Week just happens to be Oct. 7-13 this year. Even if the publication of this column where you’re reading it should miss that exact week, it’s never too late to learn and be educated. The point of the week is outreach, education and advocacy.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness explained: “In 1990, the U.S. Congress established the first full week of October as Mental Illness Awareness Week in recognition of NAMI’s efforts to raise mental illness awareness. Since 1990, mental health advocates across the country have joined together during the first full week of October in sponsoring many kinds of activities.”
One of the primary reasons for MIAW is to dispel the myths and fight stereotypes about people with mental illnesses. It brings the issue out of the dark rooms of psychotherapy and into the light of everyday households.
Lisa Badgley, an adult communication service director, explained, “This week particularly, we would like to focus on individuals with mental health disorders because they often don’t have a voice.”
A couple of years ago, a national survey was conducted and demonstrated how severe mental illnesses have increased 7 percent over the previous decade on U.S. college and university campuses.
John Guthman, director of student counseling services at Hofstra University, explained at the 2010 American Psychological Association’s annual meeting, “University and college counseling services around the country are reporting that the needs of students seeking services are escalating toward more severe psychological problems.”
The Mayo Clinic says the term mental illness “refers to a wide range of mental health conditions – disorders that affect your mood, thinking and behavior.”
Examples of mental illness include depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, eating disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder and addictive behaviors.
Many of these disorders are as common as the cold. Consider these few facts about mental illnesses from NAMI’s website:
- “The National Institute of Mental Health reports that one in four adults – approximately 57.7 million Americans – experience a mental health disorder in a given year.
- “The U.S. Surgeon General reports that 10 percent of children and adolescents in the United States suffer from serious emotional and mental disorders that cause significant functional impairment. …
- “The World Health Organization has reported that four of the 10 leading causes of disability in the U.S. and other developed countries are mental disorders. By 2020, Major Depressive illness will be the leading cause of disability in the world for women and children. …
- “Without treatment the consequences of mental illness for the individual and society are staggering: unnecessary disability, unemployment, substance abuse, homelessness, inappropriate incarceration, suicide and wasted lives; The economic cost of untreated mental illness is more than $100 billion each year in the United States.
- “Mental illnesses are serious medical illnesses. They cannot be overcome through ‘will power’ and are not related to a person’s ‘character’ or intelligence.
- “Between 70 and 90 percent of individuals have significant reduction of symptoms and improved quality of life with a combination of pharmacological and psychosocial treatments and supports.
- “A key concept is to develop expertise in developing strategies to manage the illness process.”
If you believe you or a loved one has a mental illness, there are tests to confirm or discount your suspicion.
And most of all, remember that there are also successful treatments for most mental disorders, allowing those who suffer from them – and their families – to carry on and live fruitful and productive lives.
Consult your physician or health practitioner for referrals to local experts in your area.
Also, NAMI’s website has a host of mental health resources and support links. On the site is also a map of the entire U.S., giving a state-by-state guide for finding your local chapter of NAMI.
For a more holistic medical approach, my wife, Gena, and I recommend Sierra Integrative Medical Center in Reno, Nev. The people there are pioneers in integrative medicine. They blend the best of conventional medicine with the best alternative therapies.