Since 1990, the mental health community has been recognizing Mental Illness Awareness Week during the first full week of October. So what does Mental Illness Awareness Week really mean? For the mental health community, mental illness isn’t confined to just one week. For many, mental illness is something that we are keenly aware of every day of every week of every year. It’s not something to just focus on for one week out of the year. It’s something that affects our daily lives and functioning. It’s impossible to not be aware of mental illness and the role it plays in our day-to-day functioning.
Personally, I grew up in a family that didn’t talk about mental health. It was a bit of a taboo subject that certainly wasn’t dinner table conversation. The silence continued even when I began to struggle with my own mental health in high school, when I graduated with my BA in Psychology, began to volunteer with suicide hotlines and eventually work for a national mental health organization.
All of that changed this past year when my father died by suicide. All of sudden, my family was talking about mental health. We were discussing the fact that my father lived with PTSD and never opened up about it. We were discussing the stigma that comes with being a Veteran who is struggling and the expectation that a soldier should always be strong and fearless. As my family began to open up about our own connection to mental health, so did others. Whenever I tell my own story, I find that others in the room have their own stories to add. This is the power of storytelling.
So why do we recognize and participate in Mental Illness Awareness Week? For me, MIAW isn’t so much for the ones affected by mental health conditions, but for everyone else. It’s a time to spread awareness and open conversations with individuals who may not be used to talking about mental health. By sharing our stories and hosting events during this week, we help to educate others and slowly chip away at the stigma that still surrounds mental illness. By sharing our own stories, we invite others to feel safe and comfortable with sharing their experiences as well. We all recognize that October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and are willing to advocate, fundraise and open up about our loved ones who may be affected. Why does stigma prevent us from doing the same for mental illness?
Use this week as an opportunity to open up the conversation about mental health. Whether you decide to get involved in a mental health organization such as This Is My Brave, write a blog post, re-blog a social media post for awareness or just answer honestly when someone asks, “Are you OK?” Use this week to be mindful that everyone you meet has a story to tell and you may be surprised at how many people can connect to your own story and experiences related to mental illness. Let’s open the door for honest discussions. You never know: your story could save a life.
DMV Brave Family: Come see our Executive Director Jennifer Marshall speak on Capitol Hill for National Council's Hill Day 2017. Registration is free, but please register in advance. You can also follow us on social media for live updates during the event. #HILLDAY17 #BRAVEMIAW17