Guest Editorial: May is Mental Health Awareness Month

By on May 20, 2010

Guest editorial
by Nina Finch
National Alliance on Mental Illness

At times, having a mental illness leads you to feel that your life is hopeless. It is at these times that people with mental illness need to hear that even though their lives may be challenging, they are certainly not hopeless. It is important for them to hear it from those who love them and work with them, but it is also important that society believe in their recovery.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and as part of the observance, the local affiliate of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is reviewing the positive changes in mental health treatment. Not that long ago, persons suspected of having a mental illness could be locked away, overdosed with drugs to subdue them, and removed from the lives of their loved ones. There was not much hope that professionals could offer to someone with a serious mental illness.

Although stigma remains and mental health services are under-funded, there is good news. Between 70 and 90 percent of individuals have significant reduction of symptoms and improved quality of life with a combination of pharmacological and psychosocial treatments and supports.

In fact, mental illnesses are more treatable than some diseases, such as heart disease. According to a report by the surgeon general, “With proper treatment, the majority of people can return to productive and engaging lives.”

When people with mental illnesses begin to recover, they want to be part of society, get jobs, and make plans for their future. It is more difficult to do these things if society treats them as never really having a future. If coworkers focus on the extra days that the mentally ill take off because of illness, they may not see the extra work done on other days. Coworkers may not believe that the mentally ill can handle the responsibilities of managing others, and may not include them in social activities for fear of unpredictable behavior.

Mental illnesses are serious medical illnesses. They cannot be overcome through will power and are not related to a person’s character or intelligence. It is not a matter of believing in the power of positive thinking, although changes in thinking may often be involved in the treatment process. What does help overcome mental illness is a consistent support system that does not change every election year, as well as a society that believes enough in recovery that they are willing to give the mentally ill the chance to prove that recovery is possible.

Families often feel a sense of hopelessness. They see the errors in judgment in the mentally ill, and they are afraid they will have to deal with this the rest of their lives. They don’t know where to start in getting help or even how to talk to people about what is happening. Support from friends and family reinforces recovery, and this is where NAMI comes in.

NAMI is a grassroots organization that provides support, education and advocacy for people with mental illness and their family and friends. NAMI DeKalb, Kane County and Kendall Counties (NAMIDKK), the local affiliate in this part of Illinois, started as a small group of family members looking for ways to help their loved ones. People needing help with mental health issues often reach out to NAMI because NAMI members can relate to what is happening with them.

When someone calls NAMIDKK, he or she reaches people who have been through similar experiences. The leaders of the support groups and the educational classes are all family members of people with mental illness who have been trained by NAMI to be leaders.

The leaders know what it is like to struggle to find help or experience frustration in navigating the system. The leaders of the support groups for people with mental illness have felt hopeless at one time also, but now they see that recovery is possible. They want to share that with others.

People find NAMI on the Internet, by word of mouth, or by referrals from professionals.

To find out more about NAMIDKK, visit namidkk.org or call (630) 896-6264.