A good deal of you probably know that May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Over this month I have seen a lot of support on the virtual side for mental health. Some of these have been as simple as a green ribbon, while others as elaborate as stories individuals have been willing to share. Still, the one piece that has stuck most with me was a FaceBook meme that said this;
“May is Mental Health Awareness Month: Every Day is Mental Health Awareness Day at Our Home.”
For every number or statistic thrown out, and every newspaper article or story written warning of what is now said to be 1 in 4 individuals affected by mental illness there is a person. These individuals are friends, neighbors, church members, and students. They have dreams, loves, challenges and also families, each of which can be impacted by the catastrophic effects of mental illness. The numbers don’t talk about that.
When mental illnesses hit home everyone is stuck. Husbands, wives, brothers and sisters can feel overpowered watching as the person they have come to know so well struggles against these serious health challenges. Parents and guardians especially can feel alone and confused wondering if their child with a mental health disability will be able to lead a “normal” life.
It’s not all darkness. Mental illnesses like depression and bipolar have long been associated with creativity, innovation, and even intelligence. Many great artists, leaders, writers, and actors/actresses have faced mental illnesses including Vincent Van Gogh, Abraham Lincoln, Ernest Hemmingway, and Robbie Williams. Just to name a few.
Still, individuals with mental health conditions often need help to combat their symptoms, realize/utilize their strengths, and to navigate in a world not designed for those living with mental illnesses. With intervention, a number of individuals with mental health conditions have been able to recover and that number is growing stronger each day. New discoveries are allowing individuals to fight off what were once life-controlling symptoms and many are able to lead typical, meaningful lives despite having a mental illness. This said, access to these treatments remains a struggle as waitlists for help are often long and capturing quality care sometimes seems to require super-human strength.
So as we celebrate mental health awareness month please keep these things in mind. Mental illness is a challenge. It is not a person. It does not define a person. A person can have a mental illness, it does have to ‘have’ them. Families and individuals affected by mental health conditions often need support and education on what can be most helpful in dealing with associated challenges as a family. Further with an imperfect mental health system, families often need advocacy and good direction in seeking out appropriate treatments and other supports. NAMI does this. Through classes like family-to-family, support groups, and advocacy NAMI is helping families to deal with the catastrophic effects of mental illnesses. In addition, through systems advocacy and educational program NAMI is helping to create a meaningful difference in the way families affected are met within the system of care.