Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Mental Illness Awareness Week

October 7-13 is National Mental Illness Awareness Week. It was created in 1990 by an act of Congress to raise awareness that mental illness is real, not just "an excuse for people who are too weak to take responsibility for their own problems", or any of the other countless dismissals we've all heard.

1 in 4 adults will experience some kind of mental health disorder in any given year. These can range from a single episode of depression to chronic conditions that can require medication and/or hospitalization.

The fact is, you know somebody with a mental illness. I know you do. Because if you read this blog, you likely know me, and I have a mental illness. I have dealt with chronic depression and anxiety my entire life, but I didn't acknowledge it or deal with it in a serious way until after I graduated college.

My hesitancy to do anything about a problem that I knew in the back of my mind that I had for a very long time came from a lack of awareness. I had been told that I could simply decide to get over my feelings and that psychiatric medication was something that doctors peddled to make money.

I'm a pretty stubborn and determined person. If I make up my mind to do something, I'm going to do it. For a long time I honestly believed that there was some kind of flaw in my character that prevented me from being able to "just get over it" and be a normal, happy person like everyone else seemed to be.

I only had the strength to seek help because of friends who gave me permission to admit that I couldn't deal with this on my own and assured me that it was not a sign of weakness.

I share this because I hope that, in some small way, I can fight back against the stigma that surrounds mental illness in our society. Some people view you with a suspicion if you have a mental illness in a way they would not if you have cancer, both of which are medical conditions completely outside of your control. Insurance companies do not cover mental health medications in the same way they do prescriptions for other chronic conditions.

You can be discriminated against when applying for a job if you disclose that you have a mental illness. If you had type 1 diabetes and were denied a job because of it, you would file a massive lawsuit. Even though mental illness is just as real and treatable as diabetes, it is treated differently. We have a long way to go as a society.

If you think that you or someone you know might be suffering from a mental illness, go to the National Alliance for Mental Illness' (NAMI) website. There is lots of great information and resources to help you decide how to proceed.

Please, please don't be afraid to ask for help. It's OK to admit you can't handle this on your own. I took that hard first step, and my life is immeasurably better for it. Yours will be, too.

1 comment:

Katie said...

Wonderful! The hardest part to deal with, I think, is coming to terms with the phrase "mental illness." There's less of a stigma to say, "I suffer from depression." than to say, "I have a mental illness." We have a long way to go in that regard.

Thank you for sharing your story. Both Karl and I suffer from depression and anxiety. And just like you, we manage to contribute to society. What a surprise! ;-)