Mental Illness Awareness Week aims to fight stigma and bring awareness

While many strides have been made to help those living with a mental illness lead a healthy, fulfilling life, more work still needs to be done.

In recognition of the efforts by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) in educating, increasing awareness and lessening the stigma of mental illness, the U.S. Congress established Mental Illness Awareness Week in 1990, held annually during the first full week of October. This year, it is observed from Oct. 6 through Oct. 12.

Similarly, observed on Oct. 10, is World Mental Health Day, which is a global day for mental health education, awareness and advocacy in an effort to fight stigma. World Mental Health Day was established in 1992 by the World Federation for Mental Health (WFMH).

During Mental Illness Awareness Week and World Mental Health Day, organizations and mental health advocates join together to promote community outreach and increase education on mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and major depressive disorder. Many community organizations and outreach groups hold mental health fairs, guest speakers, art & music events, educational sessions, prayer services, candlelight vigils and other benefits. At such events, individuals living with a mental illness, or those who have had a friend or family member with a mental illness, are often encouraged to share their journey with others.

Millions of Americans are currently living with a mental health condition. Mental illness affects everyone directly or indirectly through friends, family or coworkers. Although almost half of adults experience a mental illness during their lifetime, stigma and misunderstanding still runs rampant.

Commonly held misconceptions on mental illness are that it’s caused by weakness of character or that people with mental illness are violent and unpredictable or cannot handle the stress of holding down a job. The truth is, most people with mental illness are not violent, with only 3–5% of violent acts attributed to individuals living with a serious mental illness. Also, employers who hire people with mental health problems typically report good attendance, motivation, productivity and job tenure that’s on par with or greater than other employees.

According to the NAMI website, many people don’t seek treatment or are unaware that their symptoms could be due to a mental health condition. Only 41% of people in the U.S. with a mental disorder in the past year received professional health care or other services, though wellness and recovery is very much possible with the wide variety of evidence-based medications, therapy and psychosocial services now available, including psychiatric rehabilitation, housing, employment and peer supports.

To find a treatment facility nearby, visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) website at https://findtreatment.samhsa.gov/locator, contact the NAMI helpline Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264) or email NAMI at info@nami.org.

For additional resources, support, or to get involved with advocacy efforts, visit the NAMI website at https://www.nami.org or think about attending a Community Support Program (CSP) meeting, held the first Friday of every month at the S.T.E.P.S. Drop-In Center, 62 Main St., Bradford. CSP is a coalition of mental health consumers, family members and professionals working together to help adults with serious mental illnesses and co-occurring disorders live successfully in the community.

A Warm Line, staffed by a Peer Support Specialist, is available to residents in McKean County that need to talk about mental health related non-crisis issues from 4 p.m.-9 p.m. Monday through Friday and 4 p.m.-10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Anyone who is experiencing a mental health crisis, or who has a loved one who is, can contact the McKean County Mental Health Crisis Hotline 24/7 at 1-800-459-6565 or 814-362-4623, the National Prevention Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or text NAMI to 741-741.

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