Despite a plethora of resources and organizations devoted to the cause, not everyone is aware of the truth behind mental illness. Some are still scared of the word and the lies that have been told, and they lack the proper education about even the basics.
Since 1990, Mental Illness Awareness Week has tried to change that. This year, the awareness week will be held October 3-9, and one of its main supporters is the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), although the week was officially started by the U.S. Congress for the first week of October, according to NAMI’s website.
Bill Kennard, the executive director of NAMI Arizona, an affiliate of the national organization, said that awareness is important because people still believe myths and have misunderstandings about mental illness. In Arizona, misunderstanding could have been a contribution to budget cuts toward help for those with mental illnesses.
“It’s a little-known fact that about one in four Americans will have a behavioral health issue at some point in their life,” Kennard said.
Awareness has the possibility of decreasing stigma and prejudice and increasing acceptance.
“I think if people understood that it’s more common, that people don’t cause their mental illness, that it’s a biochemical and perhaps genetic disease, and that people aren’t dangerous for the most part…their ability and willingness to accept people with mental illness would be increased,” Kennard said.
Despite these hopes, there have been disheartening findings from recent studies.
A Columbia University study found that “researchers found no change in prejudice and discrimination toward people with serious mental illness or substance abuse problems despite a greater embrace by the public of neurobiological explanations for these illnesses,” according to a ScienceDaily article. The data was collected from 1996 to 2006.
There’s a four-year time period that could’ve allowed for some change in opinions, but it seems like there’s still a long way to go.