NATIONAL MENTAL ILLNESS AWARENESS WEEK
The first week in October is Mental Illness Awareness Week. During the week, the National Alliance on Mental Illness and participants across the United States raise public awareness of mental illness, its symptoms, and prevalence in society. The week is also a time when mental health organizations step up their efforts to fight the stigma of mental illness.
Recent statistics published by the National Institute of Mental Health show:
- There are an estimated 46.6 million adults aged 18 or older in the United States with any mental illness (AMI). This number represented 18.9% of all U.S. adults.
- The prevalence of AMI was higher among women (22.3%) than men (15.1%).
- Young adults aged 18-25 years had the highest prevalence of AMI (25.8%) compared to adults aged 26-49 years (22.2%) and aged 50 and older (13.8%).
- The prevalence of AMI was highest among the adults reporting two or more races (28.6%), followed by White adults (20.4%). The incidence of AMI was lowest among Asian adults (14.5%).
Since nearly one in five U.S. adults live with a mental illness, odds are, someone you know has a mental illness. They may not even know it is the cause of their suffering. There could be several reasons people are unaware. That’s one of the reasons Mental Illness Awareness Week sets a goal to help people become aware of the diverse symptoms.
One explanation could be that society often excuses unhealthy or unsocial behaviors as long as they are not dangerous. This acceptance and disregard of an illness can leave the sufferer with the impression that nothing needs to change.
A Dark History
Another reason mental illness often is neglected or ignored today is the long history of bizarre treatments of mental illness going back at least 2,000 years. In 500 b.c. Hippocrates promoted the idea that it wasn’t evil spirits, but rather a malfunction of the brain. He advocated treating the mentally ill by removing them from their job or their homes. In some cases, they were prescribed opiates.
Up until the 18th Century, some cultures misdiagnosed mental illness as demonic possession, and people were banished. Doctors thought bleeding, purging, and even vomiting helped mentally ill. In extreme cases, they were tortured or even hung or burned alive.
In the 1900s in America, people suffering from mental illness were not treated or helped – they were locked up or “institutionalized.” With institutionalization came practices of electric shock treatment, or frontal lobotomies. This surgical procedure disconnected the front lobe from the rest of brain.
Once psychiatric drugs were introduced in the 1950s, lobotomies were phased out. Today, several treatment options are available such as medicines, psychotherapy, or group therapy. In a small minority of cases, hospitalization may be needed.
Since 20% of the people you know could be suffering from a mental illness, you can help by doing one simple exercise that works better than many of the historical practices: listen without judgment; listen without trying to “fix” the person who is struggling. The National Alliance on Mental Illness recommends these steps:
- Talk to them in a space that is comfortable, where you won’t likely be interrupted and where there are likely minimal distractions. Silence and pauses are ok.
- Ease into the conversation, gradually. It may be that the person is not in a place to talk, and that is OK. Greeting them and extending a gentle kindness can go a long way. Sometimes less is more.
- Be respectful, compassionate, and empathetic to their feelings by engaging in reflective listening, such as “I hear that you are having a bad day today. Yes, some days are certainly more challenging than others. I understand.”
HOW TO OBSERVE #MentalIllnessAwarenessWeek
Look for an increased amount of social media postings during the week. Several hashtags will keep you connected on social media this week:
NATIONAL MENTAL ILLNESS AWARENESS WEEK HISTORY
In 1990, Congress officially established the first full week of October as Mental Illness Awareness Week (MIAW). Since then, advocates have worked together to sponsor a growing number of activities, large and small, to educate the public about mental illness.