Mental Illness Awareness Week

by Neseret on October 1, 2011

Yellow and Green 2“I’m the girl who is lost in space, the girl who is disappearing always, forever fading away and receding farther and farther into the background. Just like the Cheshire cat, someday I will suddenly leave, but the artificial warmth of my smile, that phony, clownish curve, the kind you see on miserably sad people and villains in Disney movies, will remain behind as an ironic remnant. I am the girl you see in the photograph from some party someplace or some picnic in the park, the one who is in fact soon to be gone. When you look at the picture again, I want to assure you, I will no longer be there. I will be erased from history, like a traitor in the Soviet Union. Because with every day that goes by, I feel myself becoming more and more invisible…”

~ Elizabeth Wurtzel, Prozac Nation ~

This year Mental Illness Awareness Week (MIAW) is from October 2 -8.

Mental Illness Awareness Week is a national public education campaign designed to raise awareness about mental illness.

Working as a mental health nurse the past five years has opened my eyes to the raw angst individuals suffering from mental illness and their families face. It is one thing to battle mental illness but then to have a layer of shame, isolation, and stigma on top of it is truly unfair.

Personally I know even after working in the mental health field for a few years and having had much education I was still afraid to admit that I was suffering from the effects of PTSD. Looking back I recognize that I have also suffered from anxiety and mild depression for the majority of my life.

Until I started working in mental health I didn’t even know I was suffering from these conditions. Again even after realizing what was happening it took me a while to fully accept my condition and be comfortable with talking about it.

I know many people suffer from mental illness but do not know it.

Others know they are suffering but are afraid to get help because of stigma. Many others are receiving help and support but there remains quiet a bit of stigma associated with having mental illness.

Many people seem to have a fear of mental illness akin to a fear of getting an infectious disease. Others just don’t want to deal with it. It’s sort of like a family secret everyone wants to sweep under the rug. However so many people are affected today. Mental illness is not something we can just ignore and hope it will go away.

Most people know someone in their circle who is affected by cancer. Similarly you won’t have to look to far to find someone within your circle of friends and family that has been affected by mental illness. I believe the risk of experiencing mental illness worldwide today is one in four. So why not learn about it rather than pretending it doesn’t exist?

Here are a few myths and facts about mental illness to open your eyes and mind…

Myth: Mental illness is not a “real” or “true” medical illness like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.

Fact: “Brain disorders, like heart disease and diabetes are legitimate medical illnesses. Research shows genetic and biological causes for psychiatric disorders, and they can be treated effectively.” Stuart.W, 2009.

Myth: “If you have a mental illness, you can will it away. Being treated for a psychiatric disorder means an individual has in some way “failed” or is weak.

Fact: A serious mental illness can not be willed away. Ignoring the problem does not make it go away, either. It takes courage to seek professional help.” Stuart.W, 2009.

Myth: “Depression results from a personality weakness or character flaw, and people who are depressed could just snap out of it if they tried hard enough.

Fact: Depression has nothing to do with being lazy or weak. It results from changes in the brain chemistry or brain function, and medication and/or psychotherapy often helps people recover.” Stuart. W, 2009.

Myth: “People with a severe mental illness, such as schizophrenia, are usually dangerous and violent.

Fact: Statistics show that the incidence of violence in people who have a brain disorder is not much higher than it is in the general population. Those suffering from psychosis, such as schizophrenia, are more often frightened, confused, and despairing than violent.” Stuart.W, 2009.

Myth: Addiction is a lifestyle choice and shows lack of willpower. People with a substance abuse problem are morally weak or ‘bad’.

Fact: Addiction is a disease that generally results from changes in brain chemistry. It has nothing to do with being a ‘bad’ person.”

Myth: “People with mental illness are poor and/or less intelligent.

Fact: Many studies show that most mentally ill people have average or above-average intelligence. Mental illness, like physical illness, can affect anyone regardless of intelligence, social class or income level.

Myth: Mental illness is a single, rare disorder.

Fact: Mental illness is not a single disease but a broad classification for many disorders. Anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, personality disorders, eating disorders and organic brain disorders can cause misery, tears and missed opportunities for thousands of Canadians.

Myth: Words can’t hurt

Fact: Words like “crazy,” “cuckoo,” “psycho,” “wacko” and “nutso” are just a few examples of words that keep the stigma of mental illness alive. These words belittle and offend people with mental health problems. Many of us use them without intending any harm. Just as we wouldn’t mock someone for having a physical illness like cancer or heart disease, it is cruel to make fun of someone with a mental illness.”

What Can You Do to Help Eliminate Stigma?

There is a lot each of us can do to reduce and eventually eliminate stigma. We can speak up only about mental health issues, as well as we can learn about them. The Canadian Mental Health Association has an excellent method for helping individuals recognize attitudes and actions that support stigma. I believe it is important to first recognize the dysfunction in order to stop perpetuating it. “Use the STOP criteria to recognize attitudes and actions that support the stigma of mental illness. It’s easy. Just ask yourself if what you hear:

Stereotypes people with mental illness (that is, assumes they are all alike rather than individuals)?

trivializes or belittles people with mental illness and / or the illness itself?

Offends people with mental illness by insulting them?

Patronizes people with mental illness by treating them as if they were not as good as other people?

If you see something in the media which does not pass the STOP criteria, speak up! Call or write to the writer or publisher of the newspaper, magazine or book; the radio, TV or movie producer; or the advertiser who used words which add to the misunderstanding of mental illness. Help them realize how their words affect people with mental illness.

Other things you can do…

All of us can help the way people think about mental illness. Start with yourself. Be careful about your own choice of words. Use accurate and sensitive words when talking about people with mental illness. Your positive attitude can affect everyone with whom you have contact. Try to influence all the people in your life constructively. Whenever you hear people say things that show they do not really understand mental illness, use the opportunity to share with them some of the information that you have.

We have already changed the way we refer to women, people of color and people with physical disabilities. Why stop there?

PLEASE share your comments down below! I’d love to hear from you! And please also share this post on twitter or fb if you liked it! Thanks so much for spending time with me here today!

Blessings and Peace,

Neseret,

Source: Canadian Mental Health Association, 2011, (www.CMHA.ca).

Source: ~ Stuart, 2009, Principles and Practice of Psychiatric Nursing, 9th Edition, Elsevier.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Grant October 3, 2011 at 2:04 pm

Great content in dymystifying mental health issues. Concise and highy readable. Many will benefit from such practical info. Thanks.

Reply

Neseret December 3, 2011 at 4:39 pm

Hi Grant,

Thanks. Mental illness affects so many people today but there is still quiet a bit of stigma. I believe education and awareness is what will eventually eliminate stigma. Knowing and understanding the facts is the beginning step.

Blessings and Peace,

Neseret

Reply

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