With Oct. 10, Mental Illness Awareness Week draws to a close. Many don’t know there is a week designated to awareness of these disorders, and many of us don’t like to think about them – until one strikes close to home. Some mental illness is likely to affect any of us. They still affect 1 in 5 people in any given year. Major Depression, not heart disease or cancer, is the leading cause of disability in our country. It results in $193 billion in lost wages and a cost to the individual, family and friends that can’t be measured. Then there are the many anxiety disorders with symptoms that range from mild to debilitating. One half of all mental illnesses begin by age 14. The symptoms of Bipolar Disorder and Schizophrenia not uncommonly begin in the late teens or early 20s. Together, these two disorders affect 4 percent of American adults, or 8.5 million people.
What can we do? Become educated about the symptoms of mental illnesses. The website for the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is an excellent resource. The local group for NAMI meets the third Thursday of every month at St. James Episcopal Church. Be willing to talk to someone if you’re worried about yourself or someone else. Know that you cannot “drive someone to commit suicide” if you talk to them about your concern. Take the “Stigma Free Pledge” – See the person, not the illness. Doing so, you’ll be likely to impact for the better at least one of the 61.5 million persons living with a mental illness in any given year. Your awareness is bound to help someone else.