“Living with Bipolar Disorder hasn’t been easy,” said Alnicia Gibson. “At times it has been overwhelming, and I have hit rock bottom. But I have learned strategies to live a full life with mental illness. It no longer defines who I am.”
Mental Illness Awareness Week (MIAW), which takes place October 3-9, is an annual national public education campaign designed to help open the eyes of Americans to the reality of mental illness. During MIAW, millions of Americans will be honoring the challenges associated with mental illness, as well as celebrating the recoveries they or their loved ones have embraced.
Mental illnesses are medical illnesses, with one in four adults experiencing a mental health problem in any given year. One in 17 lives with serious, chronic disorders. Mental illnesses include bipolar disorder, major depression, anxiety and panic disorders, and schizophrenia.
“Many people in our community are directly affected by mental illness,” said Dan Brown, President of NAMI Anne Arundel, the local affiliate of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. “The good news is that treatment does work and recovery is possible. The bad news is too few of us know about the burden of mental illness on our society, and too few sufferers seek help when they need it.”
On average, people living with serious mental illness live 25 years less than the rest of the population. One reason is that less than one-third of adults and less than one-half of children with a diagnosed illness receive treatment. The U.S. Surgeon General has reported that stigma is a major barrier to people seeking help when they need it.
“I was scared to tell my boss of my illness; for fear that it would have negative repercussions,” said Gibson. “My interactions with people at work changed dramatically once they found out I had bipolar disorder. It became a title that hung over my head. It’s especially hard in the African-American community, where mental illness is considered a taboo.”
NAMI works to end the stigma associated with mental illness, and to ensure better understanding and access to diagnosis and treatment. They offer education, support, and advocacy to individuals with mental illness and their families in an effort to reduce the impact of mental illness.
We want people to understand mental illness and join a dialogue in our community,” Brown said. “That’s why this week is so important. The more people know, the better they can help themselves or help their loved ones get the help and support they need.”
NAMI Anne Arundel is starting its fall Peer-to-Peer class for individuals with mental illness this Wednesday. It addresses diagnoses, triggers, relapse prevention, and self-advocacy. For more information, contact Heather Henry at 410-302-3577 or [email protected].