The first week in October was Mental Illness Awareness Week (MIAW), an effort established by the US Congress in 1990 to raise mental health awareness though the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). The goal of MIAW is to encourage all NAMI organizations and affiliates to work together on mental illness outreach, education, and advocacy.
According to the NAMI website, six percent, or about 1 in 17 Americans lives with a serious mental illness. One in four adults (about 57.7 million Americans) will experience a mental health disorder in a year. In addition, 10 percent of children and adolescents in the US experience a serious emotional or mental disorder that causes significant issues at home, in school, and with friends. But less than one-third of adults and one-half of children with a diagnosable mental disorder received mental health services in a given year.
Even more disturbing, those who live with serious mental illnesses have an increased risk of chronic medical conditions. Adults who have a serious mental illness die 25 years earlier than other Americans, mostly due to treatable medical conditions.
Signifying MIAW, there were a number of interesting and touching portraits of mental illness in the media about individuals who have battled mental illness, and how they were able to use their condition as a platform to spread awareness to the general public.
One story I read was about Eric Kloth of Milwaukee. He spoke to groups about his mental illness, many presentations which were on behalf of the Greater Milwaukee chapter of NAMI, before his sudden death earlier this year. He talked about what he lived through every day, as well as how others could learn to better understand those fighting mental illness, and handle interactions with them with a sense of compassion.
Eric began a battle with depression during college, according to a recent article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. With a promising future ahead, he was forced to return home after the disease rendered him unable to keep up with his academic responsibilities. Though medication temporarily helped him, his disease began to worsen. His diagnosis was changed to include schizoaffective disorder, and he began to hear voices. Eric was on and off various medications for years.
For Eric, speaking to groups was a way to feel connected, educate others, and give back to his community.
I also read about Carol Kivler of New Jersey, who was first diagnosed with a mental illness in 1990. Now 59, Kivler has had four serious periods of depression that required hospitalization, as well as long periods of recovery, according to an article in The Seattle Times.
Carol is president of her company, Kivler Communications, which provides training and coaching. She speaks about her illness in nursing homes, medical schools, and hospitals. She finds that by helping others, she helps herself.
"My goal is to really educate, advocate, and instill hope in those afraid to get help. I'd like to "normalize" depression, if you will," she said.
NAMI has affiliations at the local, state, and national levels, with over 1,200 individual organizations, each of which offer services based on the needs of its particular area. You can learn more by contacting your local NAMI.
Even though MIAW is only official for seven days, we can’t let our efforts end there. We need to work together to prioritize mental illness education and outreach all year long.
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