Charise (name has been changed) spent the last ten years of her life in and out of psychiatric hospitals. When out, she lived at Keystone, a half-way house in Norwalk, and sometimes with her family or in a small apartment close to the hospital. Schizophrenia. It was whispered. Never spoken aloud. There was no outpouring of support to her or her family. Her younger siblings' schools didn't check on them, to see how they were faring through their family's crises. Friends avoided the subject. The family managed alone.
Sometime during our lifetime, forty-six percent of us will experience a clinical level of a mental health disorder[i], including addiction disorders: Our friends and relatives, our co-workers and classmates, our neighbors and store keepers. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) provides more startling statistics on how frequently some serious mental health disorders occur in the adult population[ii]:
- Schizophrenia: 1.1%
- Bipolar disorder: 2.6%
- Major depressive disorder: 6.7%
- Anxiety disorders, including post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), phobias and panic disorders: 18%
During intimate conversations we learn about a struggle that our closest friend's child may be having, or perhaps it is clandestine gossip about an acquaintance. Why is it that we speak of such things in hushed tones? Why don't we, as a society, talk about an illness of the brain the same way that we talk about cancer or a serious injury. Why is there a stigma around mental illness?
May is Mental Health Awareness Month.
How is our community coping? For some, life is a mundane trudge managing daily tasks, for others an out-of-control crisis, and many more somewhere in between. Depression, anxiety, psychosis, phobias - the list goes on. Navigating the network of therapeutic services is challenging. Family members struggle to balance the needs of all members of their family.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) provides the much-sought after help that people with mental illness and their families need. Regularly scheduled support groups (for consumers, family members and parents of children) offer a friendly ear, voice of encouragement and guidance to help recognize and cope with the stages of recovery. Workshops, book groups, guest speakers and legislative advocacy round out the programming. All services are provided free of charge. www.namict.org.
This Saturday morning, May 19, NAMI's annual walkathon, NAMI Walks, will be held at Bushnell Park in Hartford. This is NAMI's big annual fund-raiser, and money raised supports much of the organization's programming. Join an existing team or start your own! If you cannot make the event itself, you can sponsor a walker or make a donation on line. Click here for more information NAMIWALKS 2012.
Okay, so we can help our community by participating in the walkathon or writing a check. Great! What else? Let's start the conversation. What do you think?
[i] Kessler, R., Berglund, P., Demler, O., Jin, R., Merikangas, & Walters, E., Lifetime prevalence and age-of-onset distributions of DSM-IV disorders in the National Co-morbidity Survey Replication (NCSR). General Psychiatry, 62 June 2005, 593-602.
[ii] National Alliance on Mental Illness, Mental Illness: Facts and Figures 2009. Downloaded at http://www.nami.org/Template.cfm?Section=About_Mental_Illness&Template=/ContentManagement/ContentDisplay.cfm&ContentID=53155. Accessed on May 14, 2012.