In the United States, NAMI celebrates Mental Illness Awareness Week (MIAW) from Sunday, October 5 to October 11 this year. Bipolar Awareness Day takes place on Thursday, October 9. In 1990, the U.S. Congress established this week in recognition of NAMI's efforts to raise mental illness awareness. I'd like now to talk about the significance of education to combat stigma.
Some things you could do:
- Donate mental health books to your local community (or school) library. Ask the branch manager of the library if she will accept a gift subscription to SZ magazine or BP magazine, two quarterly magazines focusing on schizophrenia and bipolar, respectively.
- Work with the manager of a bookstore in your community to create a temporary display for MIAW.
- Celebrate creativity by hosting an art gallery in your community center or church with works by artists who have mental illnesses.
- If you're active in your local NAMI, line up presentations in your community where In Our Own Voice (IOOV) presenters can speak about their recovery.
One idea that is a stretch-it's a suggestion I'll throw out-is to create a National Disclosure Day where people are encouraged to speak out. Recently, though, my therapist, Max, told me that the general public is still threatened by us and that I need to exercise judgment in who, where, when and how I tell others about this condition.
This week, I spoke with Eloise-someone who I treasure having in my life, and she echoed the truth that most people are afraid of anyone who is different from them. She is a woman in the writing workshop I attend, and has told me she relates to what I've written in the memoir. I wanted to put a human face on the struggle and more than that, write a page-turner that hooks you from the beginning.
Mental Illness Awareness Week is the tip of the efforts to break through the ignorance and fear that a lot of people still have. I find that if I approach someone one-on-one, an opening is possible. In October, 2004, NAMI-Staten Island honored me as a Volunteer of the Year, and in February of the next year when I submitted the good news to the employee newsletter, the editor lifted the information directly from the Staten Island Advance article that revealed why I was being honored. A co-worker who lives in Staten Island had read the newspaper article, and congratulated me, suggesting I tell the newsletter committee. After the stolen words appeared in the newsletter verbatim, numerous co-workers congratulated me. One woman said, "I feel like a slack next to you, you do all this volunteer work, and I hang out in trendy cafes all the time."
Max, my therapist, believes that surely my immediate co-workers are aware that something is up and it's no big secret that I have something going on in my life. Maybe in the ways that matter, I just don't care what people think. I have close friends I can talk to about what goes on, and that is the lid of who I can tell, even though sometimes it would be nice if someone asked me, "How's it going?" and I could be honest. Some things you keep to yourself.