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Monday, October 8, 2012

Mental Illness Awareness Week 2012 - Let's All Do Our Part To End The Stigma of Mental Illness

Chances are today you are celebrating the Columbus Day Holiday, the second Monday in October. It has been a Federal Holiday since 1937, celebrating Christopher Columbus' arrival in the New World in 1492. Depending on where you live in the United States today will vary from no celebration to interesting parades, special sales, school holidays, banks may be closed (Federal Holiday) and for sure there is no United States mail delivery today.

But did you know that yesterday marked the beginning of Mental Illness Awareness Week here in the United States?

Mental Illness Awareness Week history

According to the National Alliance On Mental Illness's (NAMI) website:
 "In 1990, the U.S. Congress established the first full week of October as Mental Illness Awareness Week (MIAW) 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.
MIAW has become a NAMI tradition. It presents an opportunity to all NAMI state organizations and affiliates across the country to work together in communities to achieve the NAMI mission through outreach, education and advocacy."

Mental Illness statistics in the United States

NAMI gathers statistics from across the United States and reviewing these can help us understand the sheer numbers of people who suffer from mental illness, how families are impacted and why the availability of treatment is so important:
  •  One in four adults—approximately 57.7 million Americans— experience a mental health disorder in a given year. One in 17 lives with a serious mental illness such as schizophrenia, major depression or bipolar disorder1 and about one in 10 children live with a serious mental or emotional disorder.
  • About 2.4 million Americans, or 1.1 percent of the adult population, live with schizophrenia.
  •  Bipolar disorder affects 5.7 million American adults, approximately 2.6 percent of the adult population per year.
  • Major depressive disorder affects 6.7 percent of adults, or about 14.8 million American adults. According to the 2004 World Health Report, this is the leading cause of disability in the United States
    and Canada in ages between 15-44.
  • Anxiety disorders, including panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), generalized anxiety disorder and phobias, affect about 18.7 percent of adults,
    an estimated 40 million individuals. Anxiety disorders frequently co-occur with depression or addiction disorders.
  • An estimated 5.2 million adults have co-occurring mental health and addiction disorders. Of adults using homeless services, 31percent reported having combination of these conditions.
The full NAMI report of Facts and Numbers can be seen here.

Take the first step - learn about mental illness

If you think for one moment that you and your family are not touched by mental illness, think again. NAMI reports that the disease of mental illness affects one in 15 families. Picture any neighborhood in the United States and chances are that at least one family in that neighborhood has a loved one who suffers from mental illness. We see headline grabbing stories everyday in the United States that draw our attention to mental illness and what havoc it can bring to the person and the community. Consider: Jared Loughner and the killing of six people and injuring of 13 others in the City of Tucson in January 2011 or James Holmes and the killing of 12 and the injuring of 58 in the Colorado movie theater in July 2012. These are just two examples of mentally ill suspects, the list goes on in small towns and cities across the United States. And whenever we question "why" we continue to hear about such events the number one reason that these events continue to occur is that the average American does not take the time to learn about mental illness. For some reason we tend to think we won't be touched by mental illness...it won't happen to us, to our loved one, to our community.

Work to eliminate the stigma, the shame of mental illness

If you have never lived with any kind of stigma (a mark of disgrace), then you are fortunate. Stigma can result from the way we look to the way we act, people shy away from those who suffer from mental illness. We seemed to think if we don't "see" it, then it doesn't exist. We move through life thinking that what we don't know or recognize won't hurt us. How many times have you driven past a homeless person or maneuvered your way through a grocery store trying to avoid the person who seems "a bit off?" We all do it. We are all consumed with our own lives and just trying to make it through each day. But ignoring the mental illness we see in our fellow human beings won't make it "not so."  We all need to allow those suffering from mental illness the ability to speak up without shame...reach out and help them get help.

The Bring Change 2 Mind organization promotes "working together to erase the stigma and discrimination of mental illness."

Here you can view an interview with actress Glenn Close who speaks about ending the stigma of mental illness.

If you are having trouble viewing the video, you can see it here.

As we move through Mental Illness Awareness Week 2012, remember that October 9th is National Day Without Stigma...let's work together.
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