This week marks Mental Illness Awareness Week, a week dedicated to increasing awareness and knowledge of mental health issues to help decrease stigma. This campaign, organized by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), encourages people to learn more, see people for who they are (not their illness) and advocate for equal care. As I read the facts on NAMI’s website, I was reminded that about 1 in 5 Americans suffers from some type of mental health issue in any given year and I learned that only 41% of people who are struggling receive treatment.
This low percentage is worrisome but I understand the reasons. Many people think that it will be too expensive. Others wonder if their problems are severe enough to warrant treatment. Finally, a lot of people are concerned that if they seek help, it will mean that they are “crazy.” Not only does stigma interfere with asking for help from professionals, it also gets in the way of seeking support from friends and family. What if they label me? What if they don’t understand and tell me to just get over it?
When we don’t reach out for help and support, we may struggle to live a meaningful life. A vicious cycle is created in which others think they are the only one suffering because no one else is talking about it. This leads to more people remaining silent and not getting the help they need. Without treatment, we are at risk for our symptoms getting worse and for more serious problems, including physical health problems, homelessness and suicide.
NAMI’s campaign advocates for us to learn more and talk more openly about our struggles and recovery. It encourages us to share our stories with others. For many years, I have avoided telling my story due to fears that it would negatively impact my practice but this campaign and others like it have inspired me. Make sure to read my next newsletter to learn about my struggles and how I recovered. Also, be sure to connect with me on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn this week for daily posts of mental health facts.
If you would like to take part in decreasing stigma and tell your story, let me know. You can share it in my office, in an email, or through NAMI’s You Are Not Alone page.
“When you stand and share your story in an empowering way, your story will heal you and your story will heal someone else.”-Iyanla Vanzant