Mental Illness Awareness Week (MIAW) was formalized in 1990 by the US Congress in collaboration with the National Alliance on Mental Illness. This entire week is devoted to breaking down the barriers that prevent people from talking about mental illness. The simple fact is that when people don’t talk about it, things don’t get better. The prevalence of mental illness is astounding in that 1 in every 4 individuals will experience some form of diagnosable symptoms in their lifetime, and only about 30% will ever receive treatment. It is also important to know that nearly 70% of the time the onset of mental illness happens before age 14. This means that we particularly need supports in place to help our youngsters understand symptoms and talk about them. This early onset can lead to long-term struggles if not identified and addressed.
The reality is that most people do not understand much about mental illnesses, much less the treatment options and promising outcomes. Having had a career devoted to working with children and families dealing with problems usually related to mental illness – I am often asked many questions ranging from the silly, “is it true that 50% of kindergarteners have ADHD?” to the severe, “how can I help my spouse suffering from depression get help?” While I don’t ever tout myself as a diagnostician or a therapist, I am able to offer resources and a listening ear. I may not have the answers to all the questions, but I am happy to offer comfort and validation that can be helpful. This simple (and often humbling) act is often the first step in helping an individual or family member feel better. Sometimes just talking to a friend is helpful, and other times helping somebody understand their symptoms and treatment options is what is ultimately needed. Too often the stigma or individual hurt is perpetuated by a societal unwillingness to acknowledge mental illness or to apply negative labels.
Even if you’re not clinically astute and just learning yourself, just participating positively in discussions about mental illness and keeping an open mind can be powerful. It is important to know that all individuals do the best they can with the tools they’re given. Just as diabetes and cancer will impact your life, so can mental illness – and in no case is the individual ever at blame. PrairieCare staff will be wearing green ribbons all week long to help increase awareness of mental illness and will always be available to talk to about these illnesses. The stigma surrounding mental illnesses is decreasing, and we will continue to promote open dialogue and the services necessary to help.