Be a Part of Mental Illness Awareness Week This October
September 23, 2014
•Health Awareness Days, General
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From Oct. 5 through Oct. 11, communities across the country will join a nationwide effort to educate the public about mental health disorders and their impact on families and society. Established by Congress in 1990, National Mental Illness Week is sponsored by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Serving as the country's central hub for mental health education, NAMI "advocates for access to services, treatment, supports and research and is steadfast in its commitment to raise awareness and build a community for hope for all of those in need."
A disorder is a mental or emotional problem that significantly interferes with a person's occupational or social relationships. A NAMI fact sheet reports that over 61 million Americans meet those criteria in any given year. Over $193 billion in lost earnings is due to serious mental disorders every year.
Most prevalent are anxiety disorders, from generalized anxiety and obsessive-compulsive and panic disorders to post-traumatic stress disorder. Over 13.6 million Americans, however, have such serious mental illnesses as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and major depression. Other severe mental disorders include personality disorders, addictions and phobias.
Especially troubling is the impact of mental disorders on children. In any given year, severe mental illness strikes roughly 20 percent of those between the ages of 13 and 18 and an estimated 13 percent of children between the ages of 8 and 15. NAMI also reports over 70 percent of youths in the juvenile justice system have at least one mental illness.
Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States and the third leading cause of death for people between the ages of 15 and 24. More than 90 percent of those who commit suicide had one or more mental disorder.
Treatments and their efficacy vary with each condition, but medications, counseling and support services have very successful track records. In fact, many people who might otherwise require institutionalization are living active and productive lives.
A glaring problem, however, is that only 40 percent of those who need treatment actually receive it. The problem is worse for African Americans and Hispanic Americans, who access treatment at half the rate of white Americans.
Instead of treatment, a significant number of the mentally ill end up in prisons and jails or are homeless and live in shelters. Only when they present a clear danger to themselves or others can treatment be forced on adults — even then, in most cases, this is only for the short term. Because they have the right to refuse treatment, many are living hard lives, treating themselves with alcohol and other drugs.
How to Help
"Wear green" during Mental Illness Week, says the NAMI website. Beyond displaying green, which is meant to "start a conversation and inspire hope," the organization suggests a number of ways you can contribute:
- Hand out green ribbons.
- Have your mayor issue a proclamation.
- Run a feature story in local media.
- Conduct a health fair that screens for depression and other illnesses.
- Host a "NAMIWalks" event.
- Donate money, cars, clothing or other items.
- Put up displays on bulletin boards.
These are just a few examples of how you can be a partner in raising awareness. If you have an interest in working with those who suffer from mental health disorders, consider making a career out of it.
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons