By Mary Giliberti, Executive Director, National Alliance on Mental Illness
Mary Giliberti, Executive Director, National Alliance on Mental Illness
Today marks the beginning of 2014’s Mental Illness Awareness Week (MIAW), which provides an opportunity to inspire conversations about mental health care, helping to end the silence that often surrounds mental illness and bringing help and hope to people affected by these conditions.
In 1990, the U.S. Congress established the first full week of October as MIAW in recognition of efforts by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) to raise public awareness about mental illness as a significant health condition. Each year since then, mental health advocates across the country have joined with others in their communities to sponsor activities, large or small, for public education about signs and symptoms of mental illness, such as depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and other conditions.
Today, MIAW includes the National Day of Prayer for Mental Illness Recovery and Understanding (Oct. 7) and National Depression Screening Day (Oct. 9).
For many people it comes as a surprise to learn that one in four adults experience a mental health problem ever year. One in five children and teens also live with mental illness. One-half of cases of mental illness begin by the age of 14 and three-quarters by age 24, distinguishing mental illness from other chronic health conditions, which often begin later in life.
Unfortunately, there are long delays−sometimes decades−between the time symptoms first appear and when people get help. Early identification and treatment can make a difference for successful management of an illness and recovery, but only one-third of adults and less than one-half of children with mental illness receive treatment.
MIAW aims to educate the public to recognize symptoms and understand the importance of getting help early. With the right services and supports, people can and do recover. NAMI offers support to those affected by providing free education classes and support groups, which play an important role in helping individuals with mental illness, their friends and families get information and support.
Thanks to AstraZeneca’s support, NAMI also will be launching a new social media in 2015 to broaden our ability to help people affected by mental illness.
Niagra Falls, lit up green for Mental Illness Awareness Week
During MIAW, people are also encouraged to wear green to help raise public awareness. Green is the traditional symbol of hope and renewal—themes which are important to NAMI’s vision of resiliency, recovery and wellness in working to improve the lives of individuals and families affected by mental illness.
“Going green” can be as simple as wearing a green ribbon or green shoelaces or painting your fingernails. You might want to arrange for a landmark, such as a school or church, to be illuminated in green light at night. No matter how we bring attention to this critical issue, the goal is to initiate conversations about mental illness.
The more people know, the better they can help themselves, their families and their communities. MIAW is a time to learn. It is a time to raise awareness. It is a time to make a difference.
Information about mental health conditions, recovery, and treatment options is available from NAMI at www.nami.org or from our HelpLine at 1-800-950-6264.