Personal Reflections on National Mental Illness Awareness Week

Merely Me Health Guide
  • In case you didn't know already, Congress has declared this week (October 4-10) as Mental Illness Awareness Week (MIAW) in order to promote public education about mental illnesses such as major depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. 


    If mental illness has affected your life in any way I am sure you are already aware.  The question for you becomes not, "Am I aware?" but "How do I survive?"  My mother has schizophrenia, I suffer from depression, some of my friends suffer from Bipolar Disorder, and I worked for a Psychiatric Hospital for many years so I got the awareness thing going on in spades.  I don't think I have lived a day without mental illness being an integral part of my life.  It seems an alien concept for me to think that there are some folk who are unaware of mental illness.  But sure enough they are out there. 

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    Sometimes I have a knee jerk reaction to the idea of these "awareness" days, weeks, or months to say, "Shoot we just gonna make you think about this for a week and then y'all are off the hook.  You won't have to think about it again until next year."  Meanwhile back at the ranch, people who suffer from mental illness are saying, "This is a 24/7 gig here, I don't know what you talking about, a week."  You tell my mother who suffers from schizophrenia that this is mental health awareness week and she will probably want to know if someone will give her some smokes to celebrate. Other than that she is not going to care a whole lot about it. 


    What does "Mental Illness Awareness" mean to the average individual?  That you look at a bunch of cut and paste stats on how many people have mental illness and you say, "Oh I didn't know the numbers were so high, would you look at that?" and then in the same breath say, "I think I am hungry for a ham sandwich do we have any of that special spicy mustard left?"  People just don't take numbers too seriously as they are too easily dismissed as having nothing to do with human beings.  We tend to move on quickly because statistics don't tell us about the real struggles and heartache behind mental illness. 


    So what does work to make the public aware of things like Depression, Bipolar Disorder, and Schizophrenia?  We know one way that works like a charm.  I am going to name this method, "Selective Self Disclosure."  Basically it means you share your story about how mental illness has affected your life.  Do you stand on a street corner and yell out, "Hey everybody I am depressed!"  No.  It means you share your story where it is going to make the most difference to others who think they are alone in dealing with mental illness.  It also isn't about some Jerry Springer like confessional where you do it to call attention to yourself for no reason.  It is about taking the stigma out of mental illness by having the regular guy or gal saying, "I have this mental illness and here is how I am coping with it."  It is about enlightening friends and family members who have a loved one with mental illness that there is treatment and hope.  It is about telling the general public who might not know anything about mental illness that mental illness doesn't discriminate.  Mental illness can affect your neighbor, your rich cousin, your Aunt Hilda who lives in England, your boss, or even your child.  The best way to spread this awareness is by sharing your personal experience of dealing with mental illness. 


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    The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Center for Mental Health Services has something to tell us about the importance and effectiveness of self disclosure:   


    • "Research on addressing discrimination and stigma has shown that individuals' attitudes improve when they have direct contact with persons with mental illnesses, when they can get to know people beyond labels and myths."

    • "Patrick Corrigan, Psy.D., a researcher on this topic, states that "contact between the public and people who have mental illnesses produces the greatest results with regard to positive change. Hence the more interaction between people with mental illnesses and the public, the more stigma will be torn down."

    • "Research shows that the greatest effects occur when the average person comes out. Although there is some benefit when people with notoriety tell their stories of recovery from mental illness, public attitudes are most challenged when neighbors, coworkers, and fellow churchgoers admit that they, too, have struggled with and beaten mental illness stigma (Spikol, 2003)."


    This research feels empowering to me!  The people who will have the greatest impact upon public awareness of mental health issues are folk like you and me.  You don't have to be a celebrity to make a difference.  One of the greatest values of this site is that it gives those of us who suffer from mental illness an opportunity to educate and inform the public about what it is truly like to suffer from depression.  We need to let people see the flesh and blood human beings behind the cold statistics of mental illness.


    Maybe you have never shared about your depression with anyone before.  It is difficult to disclose such a thing.  We are striving to make this site a place where it is safe for you to do so.  You can choose to be anonymous if you want.  But the more people share their personal stories the more we can help each other as well as de-stigmatize the labels of mental illness.  Under the "Connect" button on the main page as well as your personal home page of My Depression Connection you will find a drop down menu.  Push the one that says, "Create a SharePost" and this is how you can tell your story here. 


    In addition to My Depression Connection Health Central also has other mental health sites including:


    Let's put a human face onto depression and other types of mental illness.  Tell us what it is like to suffer from depression.  Share your coping strategies.  Inform friends and family how they can best help their loved ones who have a mental illness.  Reach out and give support to others who are feeling like they are losing the battle to their depression or mental illness.  Being aware is simply scratching the surface of what needs to be done.  True change takes action and it can begin right now with you.  Share your story.  We want to hear it!

Published On: October 05, 2009