Every year, one in five Americans will experience some form of mental illness. It could be a friend, a family member, a work colleague – or even you, and while mental illness doesn’t discriminate against who it affects, unfortunately those who suffer from it are often on the receiving end of discrimination. People with depression could be seen as ‘lazy’, or someone with bipolar might be labeled as ‘strange’.
Of course, none of these stigmas and stereotypes that surround mental illness are helpful for those afflicted by it, in fact it makes it so much harder for people to reach out and seek help, for fear of being judged and treated unfairly.
But by educating more people about the issues surrounding mental illness, supporting those who are going through it, and setting ourselves up with the right tools to tackle it if it does come our way – we will all be in a far better position to reduce the impact it has on society.
What is a mental illness?
At a very basic level, mental illnesses affect a person’s ability to live a ‘normal’ life day-to-day, i.e. work or go to school, socialise with others, eat and sleep. But of course there are many varying degrees of this and no two people with a mental illness will experience it in the same way.
There are many different kinds of mental illnesses, ranging from depression and anxiety, to bipolar and schizophrenia. Some mental illnesses can be treated with counselling and learning mindfulness techniques, and others are more severe and may require medication to ensure they don’t harm themselves or others.
There isn’t always a reason why someone has a mental illness, but some influencing factors include genetics, their environment, daily habits and genetics. The National Institute of Mental Health notes that females are more likely to have a serious mental illness than males, and in particular those aged between 18 and 25. People with a mixed-race background also experience mental illness more than other ethnicities.
What is Mental Illness Awareness Week?
Since 1990, the first week of October has been known as Mental Illness Awareness Week (MIAW) and every year it plays an important role in highlighting the issues and challenges that face those who have a mental illness.
It’s a dedicated time to push for greater awareness and advocacy for mental illnesses, and through education, aims to reduce the stigma many people still feel when they have a mental illness. There are a number of events and initiatives planned, including a video series where people are sharing their stories about living with a mental illness.
This year MIAW is focusing on a new campaign called ‘Together for Mental Health’, highlighting the need for better care for those with a serious mental illness, including improved crisis response and mental health care. According to a report in 2019, spending on mental health treatment and services reached $225 billion in 2019, up 52% since 2009. And of course this predates the global Covid19 pandemic, so it is well worth assuming this figure will have risen considerably over the past two years.
Improving everyone’s mental health and wellbeing
While no one chooses to be affected by a mental illness, there are a few ways we can all prioritise our own mental health and wellbeing and be better equipped to deal with many of life’s natural stresses and negative experiences.
From practicing mindfulness, to getting regular exercise and being aware of ‘triggers’ that may contribute to a mental illness. Continuing to educate ourselves is also key, by reading specific medical communications that relate to the topic and for those of us in the medical and healthcare industry – working with healthcare communications agencies who can create relevant content for distribution.
If you, or anyone you know, is experiencing mental illness – please reach out for help by talking to your GP, or a trusted friend or family member.