October 02, 2012


Mental Illness Awareness Week is Oct. 7-13.

This year’s theme is “Changing Attitudes, Changing Minds.”

Every year, a truly grassroots mobilization occurs.

What are you doing to observe it?

In 1990, Congress proclaimed MIAW as a means of increasing public understanding of mental illness, promoting treatment and helping to eliminate the stigma imposed on it.

There are many other “awareness” months, weeks and days throughout the year for many causes. For the most part, national news media don’t pay attention to them, but local media do, because local events demonstrate direct community interest.

Each year, NAMI Affiliates sponsor diverse activities in local communities: candlelight vigils, speakers in schools, film series, donations of books to libraries or special prayer readings in churches and synagogues. Some submit op-ed articles to local newspapers or are interviewed on local television news as part of stories about treatment and recovery.

Let’s also not forget National Depression Screening Day on Oct. 11, which NAMI has long supported.

Because MIAW this year coincides with the election season, some Affiliates are including the non-partisan Mental Health Care Gets My Vote in their plans.

This year, NAMI also has launched a television campaign of public service announcements (PSAs) featuring images of Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill and Mahatma Gandhi, great leaders who each struggled with mental illness.

Many NAMIWalks take place on weekends throughout the fall, providing a long reach for MIAW. There are 42 NAMI walks this fall alone.

Other NAMIWalks took place in the spring around Mental Health Awareness Month. They are just as important, but some people do wonder about the distinction between MIAW and Mental Health Month.

According to the U.S. Surgeon General, “mental health” and “mental illness” are points of reference on the same “continuum.” Mental health is not always easy to define: “wellness” is one definition, but mental health increasingly has been applied to include concerns over mental illness. Mental illness refers to diagnosable brain disorders characterized by changes in mood, thinking and behavior.

“Mental health problems” may be less intense, but can lead to mental illness. One in four American adults experiences mental health problems in any given year. One in 17 lives with more severe conditions. MIAW focuses on the more severe point on the continuum where neglect and stigma often has been greatest—along with the need for public education. That’s why NAMI traditionally observes MIAW, as well as other opportunities to build awareness.

So how can you participate?

  • Attend a local NAMI event, like a NAMIWalk or speakers program
  • Ask a local television station to run NAMI’s new PSA
  • Speak up in your place of worship to offer a prayer for helping all individuals and families affected by mental illness
  • Write a letter to the editor of a local newspaper outlining mental health issues that are important in the elections—regardless of party
  • Contact your local NAMI Affiliate to ask how you can help year-round
  • Consider making a donation to support NAMI’s work

Let’s all work together to change attitudes and change lives.

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