The first full week of October marks Mental Illness Awareness Week in the United States, and has been in place since 1990 when Congress first established the week-long advocacy event. The week is promoted largely by the U.S. National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). NAMI invites therapists, counselors and other mental health professionals to join teachers, parents, public leaders, and all those whose lives have been affected by mental health concerns to join together in their communities. The aim is to use outreach, education, and advocacy to promote greater understanding of and support for mental illness.
Within Mental Illness Awareness Week 2010, October 5 is National Day of Prayer for Mental Illness Recovery and Understanding and October 7 is National Depression Screening Day. This year’s recognition of mental health issues comes on the heels of several high-profile mental health concerns. New data released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in which 9% of Americans self-report symptoms that indicate a considerable degree of depression. The full extent of the psychological fall-out from the BP oil spill has yet to be determined; even children are reporting anxiety and post-traumatic stress. And several recent teen suicides have put a new spotlight on discrimination, bullying and cyber bullying, and the devastating consequences that these behaviors can have, especially when victims feel alienated or lack community support.
Many of the organizations and events involved in Mental Illness Awareness Week have been emphasizing the need to overturn the stigma that all too often surrounds mental health concerns and those who struggle with them. Plenty of panelists and presentations will focus on stigma, the causes behind it, and strategies for overcoming it. But perhaps one of the simplest ways to support the people in our families and communities who face these struggles is to change the way we talk about such problems in the first place. Though the official name is Mental Illness Awareness Week, Dr. John Grohol of Psych Central refers to it instead as Mental Health Awareness Week. While the word “illness” does reinforce certain conditions as illnesses outside of a person’s control, it also ostracizes those who are willing to find a therapist or counselor, as though there is something wrong with acknowledging that therapy can help. But the word “health” is something we can all be invested in, both for ourselves and for those in our families, social circles, and communities.
© Copyright 2010 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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