Mental Illness Awareness Week. It’s one of the “ribboned” events, with a dedicated chunk of time (the first week of October each year) during which knowledge and understanding of the issue are brought to light. Mental illness is a wonderful thing to which to dedicate time and attention, for as anyone who has lived with any type of mental illness knows, lack of understanding can lead to prejudice and discrimination. To help end that problem, we observe Mental Illness Awareness Week.
The term mental illness, though, is both vast and vague. Of what should we actually be aware? Of course there’s no single right answer to this, which is one of the things that makes Mental Illness Awareness Week so powerful. Both on- and offline, people and organizations such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness provide facts, statistics, and other information in order to increase awareness of mental illness and those whose lives it touches. I don’t keep it a secret that I have not just professional (I’m credentialed as a National Certified Counselor) but personal experience with mental illness.
After a traumatic brain injury, I was diagnosed with bipolar 1 disorder as well as anxiety disorders. As people don’t live in a vacuum, I had to navigate the worlds of family, friends, coworkers, supervisors, students, parents, clients, and more. It’s from both my personal and professional experience that I offer these insights for Mental Illness Awareness Week:
When it comes to mental illness, I’ve learned that…
- “Mental illness” is a fairly meaningless term. We don’t tell someone that we have a physical illness, because that is too broad. More specific: cold, asthma, prostrate cancer, breast cancer, influenza, schizophrenia, depression, dissociative identity disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder. When we know the specific illness, we understand the symptoms and how to manage them.
- “Mental illness” refers to a diagnosis rather than to a person. It’s a medical term used to identify what’s going on and how to treat it.
- “Mental illness” does not refer to a personal character trait. One isn’t depression, just like one isn’t cancer.
- “Mental illness” involves a different way of experiencing oneself and/or the world. It is not a wrong way of being with oneself or in the world.
- “Mental illness” doesn’t erase the good in your life and in who you are. To be sure, it adds challenges and difficulties, but it doesn’t not diminish the good within you and around you.
- With a diagnosis of a mental illness, someone can still “be,” can still exist and have strengths and weakness and ups and downs and interests and talents and more.
- With a diagnosis of a mental illness, someone can still “do,” can make choices and decisions and behave in intentional ways.
To me, the most important thing of which to be aware when it comes to mental illness…
8. With or without mental illness, each and every one of us can find our passions, live with purpose, and create a life worth living.
To be sure, when someone lives with a mental illness, adjustments might have to be made and living with passion and purpose might take extra effort, but passion, purpose, and a life worth living are within reach of everyone. That is important to know during Mental Illness Awareness Week and beyond.
A great way to increase awareness, understanding, and empathy for people living with mental illness as well as their families and friends is through stories. Listening to what someone has to share about their experiences is empowering for the storyteller and the listener. Reading stories, too, can help deepen human understanding. Fiction can convey fact in a way that goes far beyond information and extends to thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Stories humanize mental illness, which is one of the main goals of Mental Illness Awareness Week.
Others are recognizing, too, that novels can both entertain and inform. In honor of Mental Illness Awareness Week, here’s a peek at what professional critics are saying about Leave of Absence, My Life in a Nutshell: A Novel, and Twenty-Four Shadows:
Do you have a question about mental health or mental illness or a topic you’d like to hear about? Use the contact form below to submit it (put Q&A in the subject line), and I’ll address it on the Wellbeing&Words Q&A show on YouTube.