April 08, 2016

By Carole Wills

It’s incredibly unfortunate that some people judge and blame those who live with major depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, PTSD, schizophrenia or any other mental illness for the symptoms they experience. Our goal during this important month of awareness is to address these attitudes and ask the questions: How do we change society’s thinking about biologically based mood and thought disorders? How do we remove barriers to treatment created by fear and ignorance?

One of NAMI FaithNet’s pioneers, Gunnar Christiansen, gives us the key: “Education leads to understanding; understanding leads to empathy; empathy leads to compassionate care. We don’t need to be a psychiatrist, a psychologist, a neuroscientist or a theologian. We simply need boots on the ground.” He was talking about the need for champions and advocates like you and me to speak up, to educate, to raise awareness, to end the silence about mental health issues in our families, work place, schools and faith communities.

A young woman came up to me recently during a break at mental health ministry training for the Catholic Archdiocese of Indianapolis. Her eyes searched mine intensely as she shared that, after many years of struggle, she recently and finally had been diagnosed with Bipolar II. “Thank you for telling us about NAMI. [I’d] never heard of it or NAMI FaithNet before.” As I told her about NAMI support groups and education courses near her, a smile lit her face.

Whom will you tell that NAMI offers hope and help through education courses and support groups, that mental illnesses are treatable and that early diagnosis and treatment lead to better outcomes? May is Mental Health Month, and the time is right. Gather your tools to spread education and awareness.

Here are awareness resources for bulletin boards, newsletter articles, small discussion groups or large group presentations:

Managing Stress: This article provides information and suggestions on beneficial habits toward reducing stress that could help someone with symptoms.

Infographic Fact Sheets: This information illustrates the prevalence of mental illness and the need for awareness and early diagnosis. You can post these infographics on community bulletin boards or pass them out during presentations.

Book List: To start the conversation on mental health, you can recommend these books in any group or community, then hold a group discussion.

In Our Own Voice: These presentations by someone who has lived with mental illness promote awareness and education. You can schedule a presenter through your local NAMI.

Mental Health Awareness Bulletin: You can post this flyer on bulletin boards at school or church to teach a few statistics about mental illness and the primary warning signs of mental illness.

Say It Out Loud: If your primary audience is teenagers, this toolkit offers resources for speaking about mental health including a discussion guide, a short film featuring a few teens’ personal stories, a presentation guide and additional information and fact sheets to give out.

A Prayer for Patience & Perseverance: You can share this prayer in your faith community.

Multi-Faith Mental Health Resources: Here you will find helpful websites, pamphlets and information about mental health and faith.

Last week, an email with the word “hope” in the subject line appeared in my inbox. The note said, “Is there really hope when your son is 23 and refusing help and thinks he is fine but not? I've been seeing a counselor but don't know if it is helping. He gave me the name of NAMI. Just tell me, is there really hope for my son?”

That counselor was ready to provide a key to hope—a NAMI brochure. You can do the same. Gather education and awareness tools and share them with a friend, your congregation, work place or school staff. George Washington Carver once said, “Education is the key to unlock the golden door of freedom.” In our case, we are unlocking freedom from ignorance that breeds fear, despair and prejudice. Let’s spread the freedom and hope.

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