May 27, 2015

By Sandy Smith

Although we all experience and interpret life in different ways there are a few universal truths for those living with a mental health condition. These are just a few examples of simple mental health realities everyone should know.

Mental Health Conditions Are Real

Mental illnesses are just as real and valid as physical illnesses. Whether there are malfunctions in the brain or in the body, people need proper diagnosis and treatment. Many early deaths are also attributed to mental illness in the form of suicide.

It’s Not a Personal Weakness

Scientists at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), an organization devoted to research, prevention, and treatment of mental illness, have determined that mental illnesses are dysfunctions of the brain. 

We know that the brain is the organ that controls the processes and systems in our bodies. Malfunction of the brain can affect one’s thinking skills and intelligence, emotions, feelings, and relationship skills.

Not everything is known about the human brain but, the causes for mental illness are thought to be genes and environment. Causes are not some fault, weakness, lack of willpower, or character flaw of the individual.

Everyone is Different

Each case is unique, as all individuals are unique. Even among people with the same diagnosis, every person will experience it differently. Not every person will exhibit all the common symptoms of their particular disorder. And what symptoms they do experience may vary in intensity and severity. Each person will be affected in a different way because of their own unique nature and personality.

You Can Help Your Family Member or Friend

If one of your loved ones lives with a mental health disorder it is critical for their recovery that you give them compassion, respect, understanding, encouragement, and support. Be careful not to pressure or force your loved ones to do things. You can't tell other people how to think or feel just like you can't say when a person  is ready to work.

With the right support, treatment, and healing, people with mental illness will know when they are ready to do something, including work. They are not just being lazy. And some people never recover from mental illness; others only partially recover. To provide support you may need to equip yourself with education and knowledge.

You Can Fight Stigma

You can’t control what other people think, say, and do, but you do have control over yourself. Even if you don’t know someone who lives with mental illness, you can do your part to help by spreading the truth, reducing stigma and increasing public awareness about this serious health problem. Please support these efforts just as you would for breast cancer or any other physical disease.

You Are Not Alone

I know that all I have said is true because I have first-hand knowledge and experience. I am a person who lived for many years with severe symptoms of serious mental illness. Many people live happy, healthy and productive lives despite a mental health condition. 

There is a Lot of Information and Resources

For more information about mental health research, visit National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). To learn about the prevalence and impact of mental illness, read the Director’s Blog, “Mental Health Awareness Month: By The Numbers”.

Information and opportunities to get involved can also be found right here on NAMI's website. You can learn. You can find out how to support yourself or a loved one. Or you can see how to get involved and make a difference in your community.

Submit To The NAMI Blog

We’re always accepting submissions to the NAMI Blog! We feature the latest research, stories of recovery, ways to end stigma and strategies for living well with mental illness. Most importantly: We feature your voices.


NAMI HelpLine is available M-F, 10 a.m. – 10 p.m. ET. Call 800-950-6264,
text “helpline” to 62640, or chat online. In a crisis, call or text 988 (24/7).