By Kayt Sukel
There are a lot of myths and misconceptions about mental illness. And with an estimated 1 in 5 Americans suffering from a mental illness each year, those myths and misconceptions are important to dispel.
To that end, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has worked tirelessly to educate the public about mental illness, with the hope of getting those suffering from these disorders in silence the help they need. Twenty-five years ago, in recognition of their efforts, the U.S. Congress established the first full week of October as Mental Illness Awareness Week, a time for mental health advocates and organizations to sponsor outreach programs and events — many that run all month long — to help people understand what mental illnesses like depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia are — and what they are decidedly not.
This year’s Mental Illness Awareness Week took place October 4-10 with events across the country celebrating the theme #IAmStigmaFree. But don’t worry if you missed out on the week’s activities; you can still join the campaign and help spread its important message.
The primary focus of the #IAmStigmaFree campaign is to educate the public to see people as more than their diagnoses and to help take the mark of stigma away from what are very common disorders. Those interested in getting involved can still take the StigmaFree Pledge and tell their own mental health stories freely and without shame in hopes of raising awareness and inspiring others to do the same.
Laurie Martinelli, executive director of NAMI Massachusetts, says the campaign’s goal is an important one. “It gives us an opportunity to educate the public and dispel the many stereotypes we see regarding mental health issues on television and in the news,” she says. “This kind of education and outreach is what NAMI does 365 days a year. But Mental Illness Awareness Week allows us to get other people more involved and really help us to reach out to people we might not normally be able to.”
Mental Illness Awareness Week, and its corresponding campaign and events, works hard to dispel those stereotypes and remove the shame of mental illness for the millions of Americans living with a mental health disorder. But they also provide important support and assessment tools to those who fear they may be suffering from a mental health condition and may be afraid to come forward. This year’s events included live music concerts, educational sessions and panel discussions, advertising campaigns, movie nights and benefit races. But, truly, the types of events are only limited by the organizers’ imaginations. As long as the purpose is to reduce stigma and to advocate for treatment and support of mental illness, your local NAMI chapter is open to new ideas.
Assurex Health has been an active participant in the campaign, filling their Facebook page and Twitter feed with posts from team members who have taken the pledge. Go to www.facebook.com/assurexhealth to see their amazing stories!
To get involved in the #IAmStigmaFree campaign, or to learn more about yearround programs or events in your area, visit the national NAMI website. You can locate your local NAMI chapter there to find out ways you can take action —and help America be stigma free.