Today marks the second day of Mental Health Awareness Week 2015. While individuals struggling with various forms of mental illness hardly get a reprieve, this week grants them the visibility necessary to fight back against the pervasive stigma against ‘invisible’ illnesses.
Forbes reports that almost 1 in 4 Americans live with mental illness, be it a disease as oft-discussed and little-understood as depression, or something as severe as schizophrenia. Nearly 20% of adults suffer from anxiety, and yet the vast majority deal with the preconception that mental illnesses are neither as legitimate nor as damaging as physical ailments. Children who suffer from mental illness are likely to experience more severe symptoms as adults if they fail to receive proper treatment, but many are not even given the opportunity to ask for help. Both children and adults often face a lack of mental health treatment options, as well as a great deal of shame regarding their condition.
Not only is mental illness often considered exaggerated or embarrassing, it is also frequently misdiagnosed and misunderstood. In fact, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, mentally ill persons suffering a severe episode are more likely to be jailed than offered treatment, even in non-violent crime situations. That’s just one of many areas Mental Health Awareness Week hopes to improve, through grassroots conversation, advertising, and advocacy.
NAMI and other like-minded organizations are working to overcome the public stigma and change outdated and harmful policies.
Many organizations are offering their own take on Mental Health Awareness Week. For instance, Topeka, Kansas has launched a collaboration between the Valeo Behavioral Health Care Center and the NOTO Arts District, in which mentally ill artists showcase work that speaks to their illnesses. The inaugural event, titled ‘New Beginnings,’ is an attempt to use art as advocacy. These artists hope to connect with neurotypical viewers, illustrating some of the rollercoaster effects of mental illness and using the event as a platform for further discussion.