Celebrating Mental Illness Awareness Week

  • 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.

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    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.

  • The co-worker who originally spotted the newspaper article recently sent me an e-mail that was so beautiful, I cut-and-pasted the content into my personal blog, Joyful Music, which you can read at my author web site, www.christinabruni.com. The last words I take to heart: "Be kinder than necessary because everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle."

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    Good people are out there. You just need to be receptive to finding them, and not give up until you do, and show you appreciate that they're in your life when they show up. Mental Illness Awareness Week is also the time to recognize everyone who struggles.

    Tuesday, October 7 is the National Day of Prayer, and my blog entry here for that day will look at those we've lost and the people who we're still fighting for and those of us who are battling sz ourselves. An event that happened in New York City in the past three weeks is chilling and deserves mention. Also, in the month of October, I would like to list at the end of each blog entry someone that you want to remember or recognize who has lived with schizophrenia or still grapples with it.

    NAMI-the National Alliance on Mental Illness-has over 1,100 affiliates across the county, and you can log on to www.nami.org, or call their national hot line at (800) 950-NAMI (6264) for information. NAMI is the largest grassroots organization of its kind devoted to advocating for people living with mental illnesses and their families. Their goals are to educate each other and the general public about these conditions, lobby for more research and funding of research, and to advocate for a better system of mental health care throughout the U.S.

    NAMI's premier ongoing programs are the Connections peer support group, the Peer-to-Peer nine-week educational course in which people living with mental illnesses develop an action plan, advance directive for mental health care, and develop coping techniques through exercises and group work. Other programs for families include the 12-week Family-to-Family course where two leaders educate family members and give effective techniques for care giving, and the Family Support groups held weekly at affiliates throughout the United States. In the future, I will interview a woman who teaches Family-to-Family and will undoubtedly share her generous wisdom and compassion. Of all that NAMI offers, I believe Family-to-Family is the most important bedrock.

    Right now I'm going to sign off. I'm on vacation for the next week, and I want to spend some time tidying up my apartment, and rest and relax before I take the Zumba class at the gym tonight. Before I go, I would like you to e-mail me the name or names of people living with schizophrenia, or who have passed on, that you would like everyone at the Connection to remember in October. You could include a paragraph or two about their life and what you're proudest of about them. My e-mail here is christina.bruni1@gmail.com. Thank you.

Published On: October 02, 2008