May is Mental Health Awareness Month

Did you know that 1 in 5 people experience a mental illness in a given year?  Did you know 1 in 25 (that’s 10 million) adults in America live with a serious mental illness?  Surprised?

We are fortunate to have Guest Blogger Connie Ewing, NAMI Mobile, Board Treasurer and Executive Director, SOMI Club write about her experiences and what NAMI and SOMI offer.

 

          

 In 1949, mental health advocates across the country began observing the month of May as Mental Health Month.  Yet after nearly 70 years of promoting awareness and education about mental illness, the stigma and lack of understanding surrounding these conditions persists.

The truth is, if we don’t have a mental illness or a loved one that does, we probably won’t spend much time learning about it.  After all, it doesn’t affect us, right?   I know twenty years ago, that’s what I thought.  Mental illness was something that happened to “other” people – not me!

And then my 17 year old son was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and everything changed.  Our entire family was suddenly propelled into an unfamiliar and scary world.  A world of traumatic emotions – confusion, denial, guilt, anger, grief and resentment – and a world with few resources to help.


During those first five years our son was being treated for his illness, we rode the “bipolar roller coaster” with him.  In and out of hospitals – on and off medication. The entire family was affected by this illness – not only our son.
Yet never once during that time did one of the mental health professionals treating him offer our family information about NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness.)  This is unfortunate, because if they had we would have been able to help our son and ourselves sooner.

Thankfully in 2007, a therapist I went to for help, suggested our family take the NAMI Family-to-Family class.  I had never heard of NAMI but it was a lifeline she threw us and one we clung to for dear life!  Ultimately it saved our family’s life. The class provided us with practical tools to help our son and gave us the support we needed to help ourselves.

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As our son stepped onto a solid path of recovery, NAMI was there to help him, too.  He became trained as a mentor for the NAMI Peer-to-Peer course which helped give him more insight and understanding of his illness.  He led this class at SOMI Club where he met others who shared his same experiences.  Together they provided each other mutual support and understanding.  (SOMI Club is a nonprofit daytime mental health drop-in center for individuals living with a mental illness.)

My hope is you never have to go through the struggles our family did.  Mental illness may never affect you. But I’d like to remind you of the statistics.

1 in 5 people experience a mental illness in a given year.

1 in 25 (that’s 10 million) adults in America live with a serious mental illness.

If you consider these statistics, it’s possible you DO know someone with a mental illness, or a member of their family, but didn’t know it because they were too ashamed or afraid to talk about it.

My family was no different than thousands of other families out there struggling today.  They are wondering where to turn and how to help their loved one and themselves. They feel alone and as if no one understands what they’re going through.  They feel judged by those who still believe in the myths about mental illness.  Would you help them if you could?  If you knew more about these illnesses and were aware of the resources available in the community, you could help.  By simply telling them.


I hope that throughout the year, and especially during the month of May, you will learn something new about mental illness.  Many of us have trained in CPR or basic first aid, but few of us know what to do if we come in contact with someone in a mental health crisis.  Mental Health First Aid does that.  Perhaps you’ll consider becoming a Mental Health First Aider!!

But, if not – here’s something you can do that won’t take much time and will cost you nothing.   Join NAMI’s “Cure Stigma” campaign.  There is a virus spreading across our country.  It’s called “stigma”. Have you been infected? Take the quiz to find out.  If you have, don’t worry.  This virus is 100% curable!  Compassion, empathy and understanding are the antidote!  Let your voice help spread the cure.

Connie Ewing

NAMI Mobile, Board Treasurer and Executive Director, SOMI Club

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