Sunday marked the beginning of the Mental Illness Awareness Week in the US and Canada. These weeks happen around the world at different times of the year. In the US, this week was set aside by Congress to bring together organizations fighting for the awareness of mental illness. In Canada, Mental Illness Awareness Week was established by the Canadian Psychiatric Association.
And while large organizations run these national campaigns, there are things that every one of us, as individuals, can do to help.
Public Ways to Help Mental Illness Awareness
If you are lucky enough to be able to participate publically in a mental illness campaign, there are many things you can do. If you happen to have money, you can donate or sponsor an event. While everyone loves volunteers, everyone loves money too. Without it, campaigns wouldn’t be possible.
You can also attend or publicize one of the many events taking place this week. In Canada, these events are nicely laid out for you (in a random fashion over 5 pages) here. Show that you support this cause. Go to an event. Take a friend. Take someone who doesn’t know about mental illness. And remember, these events don’t have to be dull or boring – some are stand-up comedy, an art show or film screening. Mental illness awareness isn’t just about talks and information – it’s about all manner of support. (US Mental Illness Awareness Week guide)
Semi-Public Ways to Help Mental Illness Awareness
But I know some people don’t want to go to events and they don’t have money to donate. That’s OK too. We all understand that sometimes life forces us to be a bit more guarded. Perhaps you might feel comfortable joining a group on Facebook or following someone on Twitter.
Or, do what I consider to be one of the most powerful things in the world – tell one person one real fact about mental illness. Maybe one of these:
- Did you know anorexia has a higher rate of suicide than any other mental illness?
- Did you know that there is more than one type of bipolar disorder?
- Did you know that 15% of women experience post-partum depression and yet few get help because pediatricians are notoriously bad at checking on the health of the mothers (they focus on the children)?
- Did you know that substance abuse is a mental illness and has genetic components?
- Did you know that we are getting to the point where researchers can detect schizophrenia and depression in blood tests?
And on and on. There is no end to the facts about mental illness that most people don’t know. And if you share one fact with one person then you have done your job. Pick anyone. I like to tell strangers that I bump into while at the dentist, the vet, the grocery store or wherever I happen to be that day.
These are great people to pick because you have no idea how much you can influence their lives by one, simple fact. You might be talking to someone with a mental illness that is suddenly freed by learning about the prevalence of postpartum depression. You might be talking to someone whose brother has schizophrenia and feels completely alone. You might be talking to someone who doesn’t take her friend’s eating disorder very seriously. These people need your help. You can change their lives. In an instant. And it costs you nothing.
Private Ways to Support Mental Illness Awareness
But it’s OK if you don’t want to do any of those things. Sometimes we don’t have the energy to attend events or talk to others. This is OK too. You might feel comfortable looking at online campaigns such as the faces of mental illness. Maybe just reading this blog is what you feel comfortable doing. Maybe learning about your own illness or the illness of someone you love is how you would like to contribute. Those things are great too.
Why Mental Illness Awareness Matters
Because in the end, knowledge dispels fear. It dispels my fear as a person with a mental illness and it dispels the fear of those around people with a mental illness. Which is why even if you just take five minutes to learn something you didn’t know about mental illness you have done your job. You have increased awareness. Personally.
Because one person’s awareness can make all the difference in the world to you or someone you love. That is how you change the world for people with a mental illness – one person at a time.