Breaking the stigmas about mental illness

Posted: Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Mental Illness Awareness Week, recognized Oct. 4-11, is an annual national public education campaign designed to help open the eyes of Americans to the reality of mental illness. Congress established the event in 1990 in recognition of efforts by the National Alliance on Mental Illness to increase public awareness of mental illness and its widespread effects.

Americans with mental illnesses are often ignored or ridiculed instead of being viewed as a person with an illness. Few Americans know about the burden of mental illness. Few sufferers seek help when they need it. MIAW seeks to raise awareness of the level of mental illness in the United States; to reduce negative stigma about mental illness; and to promote the positive effects of best practice in prevention, diagnosis and medical treatment.

As part of this year's MIAW, communities and congregations across the country will observe the sixth annual National Day of Prayer on Oct. 6. Bipolar Disorder Awareness Day will be observed Oct. 8. MIAW presents an opportunity for national, state and local affiliates to work together in communities across the country to achieve the NAMI mission of providing support, education and advocacy - not only to those with a brain disorder, but also to their family, caregivers and loved ones.

NAMI is America's largest grassroots mental health organization solely dedicated to improving the lives of people living with severe mental illnesses, and reducing the stigma of mental illness that is prevalent in the United States. NAMI provides up-to-date, scientific information through a quarterly newsletter, a toll-free help line, an award-winning Web site, an annual convention, and the annual Mental Illness Awareness Week campaign. At federal, state and local levels, NAMI demands improved services for people with serious brain disorders, such as greater access to treatment and better health insurance coverage. NAMI actively supports increased federal and private funding or research into causes and treatments of serious brain disorders.

NAMI has more than 220,000 consumer and family members who seek equitable services for people with severe mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia, major depression, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and anxiety disorders. There are more than 1,200 national affiliates including NAMI Juneau. Working on the national, state, and local levels, NAMI provides education about mental illness, supports increased funding for research, and advocates for adequate health insurance, housing, rehabilitation and jobs for people with serious psychiatric illnesses.

NAMI-Juneau is currently offering the Family to Family Education Program on Monday nights from 5 to 7:30 p.m. at its office location. This 12-part course provides education and support for family members of those living with mental illness. The course is taught by specially trained facilitators, and all course materials are free thanks to funding provided by Eli Lilly. More than 115,000 family members throughout the United States have graduated from this national program.

Recovery from mental illness requires community action, understanding and teamwork. Recovery is possible because of improved science, better community supports and reduced stigma. But significant barriers still exist. Services are at risk, insurance can be insufficient and unfortunately the stigma is still prevalent, though this stigma is decreasing every year.

Mental Illness affects individuals, families and communities just as strongly as diabetes, heart disease or cancer. Brain disorders and people who have them deserve the same treatment and support as other physical disorders.

Do yourself a favor. Open your mind and recognize that mental illness is a brain disorder.

For more information about NAMI, go to For information about NAMI Juneau or NAMI's Family to Family Education Program, contact the NAMI Juneau office at 586-4251, e-mail, or stop by the NAMI office at 415 6th Street, room G8 (in the old St. Ann's Building) and visit with Executive Director Laura Manley or AmeriCorps volunteer Niza Volair.

• Cheryl Putnam and Cameron Vance are on the NAMI Juneau Board of Directors.

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